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CD4+ T Cells Are Required To Sustain CD8+ Cytotoxic T-cell Responses During Chronic Viral Infection

M Matloubian, R J Concepcion, R Ahmed

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In this study, we have examined the relative contributions of CD4+ and CD8+ T cells in controlling an acute or chronic lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) infection. To study acute infection, we used the LCMV Armstrong strain, which is cleared by adult mice in 8 to 10 days, and to analyze chronic infection, we used a panel of lymphocyte-tropic and macrophage-tropic variants of LCMV that persist in adult mice for several months. We show that CD4+ T cells are not necessary for resolving an acute LCMV infection. CD4+ T-cell-depleted mice were capable of generating an LCMV-specific CD8+ cytotoxic T-lymphocyte (CTL) response and eliminated virus with kinetics similar to those for control mice. The CD8+ CTL response was critical for resolving this infection, since beta 2-microglobulin knockout (CD8-deficient) mice were unable to control the LCMV Armstrong infection and became persistently infected. In striking contrast to the acute infection, even a transient depletion of CD4+ T cells profoundly affected the outcome of infection with the macrophage- and lymphocyte-tropic LCMV variants. Adult mice given a single injection of anti-CD4 monoclonal antibody (GK1.5) at the time of virus challenge became lifelong carriers with high levels of virus in most tissues. Unmanipulated adult mice infected with the different LCMV variants contained virus for prolonged periods (> 3 months) but eventually eliminated infection from most tissues, and all of these mice had LCMV-specific CD8+ CTL responses. Although the level of CTL activity was quite low, it was consistently present in all of the chronically infected mice that eventually resolved the infection. These results clearly show that even in the presence of an overwhelming viral infection of the immune system, CD8+ CTL can remain active for long periods and eventually resolve and/or keep the virus infection in check. In contrast, LCMV-specific CTL responses were completely lost in chronically infected CD4-depleted mice. Taken together, these results show that CD4+ T cells are dispensable for short-term acute infection in which CD8+ CTL activity does not need to be sustained for more than 2 weeks. However, under conditions of chronic infection, in which CD8+ CTLs take several months or longer to clear the infection, CD4+ T-cell function is critical. Thus, CD4+ T cells play an important role in sustaining virus-specific CD8+ CTL during chronic LCMV infection. These findings have implications for chronic viral infections in general and may provide a possible explanation for the loss of human immunodeficiency virus-specific CD8+ CTL activity that is seen during the late stages of AIDS, when CD4+ T cells become limiting.