Cytomegalovirus infection leads to development of high frequencies of cytotoxic virus-specific CD4+ T Cells targeted to vascular endothelium

Annette Pachnio, Miriam Ciaurriz, Jusnara Begum, Neeraj Lal, Jianmin Zuo, Andrew Beggs, Paul Moss

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Cytomegalovirus (CMV) infection elicits a very strong and sustained intravascular T cell immune response which may contribute towards development of accelerated immune senescence and vascular disease in older people. Virus-specific CD8+ T cell responses have been investigated extensively through the use of HLA-peptide tetramers but much less is known regarding CMV-specific CD4+ T cells. We used a range of HLA class II-peptide tetramers to investigate the phenotypic and transcriptional profile of CMV-specific CD4+ T cells within healthy donors. We show that such cells comprise an average of 0.45% of the CD4+ T cell pool and can reach up to 24% in some individuals (range 0.01-24%). CMV-specific CD4+ T cells display a highly differentiated effector memory phenotype and express a range of cytokines, dominated by dual TNF-α and IFN-γ expression, although substantial populations which express IL-4 were seen in some donors. Microarray analysis and phenotypic expression revealed a profile of unique features. These include the expression of CX3CR1, which would direct cells towards fractalkine on activated endothelium, and the β2-adrenergic receptor, which could permit rapid response to stress. CMV-specific CD4+ T cells display an intense cytotoxic profile with high level expression of granzyme B and perforin, a pattern which increases further during aging. In addition CMV-specific CD4+ T cells demonstrate strong cytotoxic activity against antigen-loaded target cells when isolated directly ex vivo. PD-1 expression is present on 47% of cells but both the intensity and distribution of the inhibitory receptor is reduced in older people. These findings reveal the marked accumulation and unique phenotype of CMV-specific CD4+ T cells and indicate how such T cells may contribute to the vascular complications associated with CMV in older people.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1005832
Number of pages25
JournalPLoS pathogens
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 8 Sept 2016


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