GSBS Dissertations and Theses

Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Immunology and Microbiology



First Thesis Advisor

Liisa K. Selin


Viruses, Lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus, Immunologic Memory, Panniculitis, Tumor Necrosis Factors, Fas Ligand Protein, Erythema Nodosum


Prior immunity to a related or unrelated pathogen greatly influences the host’s immune response to a subsequent infection and can cause a dramatic difference in disease course, a phenomenon known as heterologous immunity. Heterologous immunity can influence protective immunity, immunopathology and/or immune deviation of cytokine-producing T cell subsets. Examples of heterologous immunity have been well documented in mouse models, as well as during human infections. For example, prior immunity to lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) provides partial protection against vaccinia virus (VV), as LCMV-immune mice show reduced VV titers and increased survival upon lethal dose VV infection. Heterologous protection against VV challenge, as a result of LCMV immunity, is mediated by LCMV-specific CD4 and CD8 T cells, as transfer of LCMV-specific memory T cells can mediate this protective effect in naïve mice. The recognition of a single TCR with more than one MHC-peptide complex is referred to as T cell cross-reactivity. A VV Kb-restricted epitope a11r198 was identified to be able to induce cross-reactive responses from LCMV-specific CD8 T cells. During VV infection, LCMV-specific memory T cells that are cross-reactive to VV epitopes produce IFN-γ early in VV infection. IFN-γ is essential for mediating the protection against VV in LCMV-immune mice, as this heterologous protection is absent in IFN-γR-/-and IFN-γ blocking antibody-treated LCMV-immune mice. In addition to protective immunity, cross-reactive LCMV-specific memory T cells and IFN-γ also induce an altered immunopathology during heterologous VV challenge. LCMV-immune mice show moderate to severe levels of inflammation of the fat tissue, known as panniculitis, in the visceral fat pads upon VV challenge. In humans, panniculitis is a painful condition, most commonly presenting as erythema nodosum. Erythema nodosum is a disease of unknown etiology with no known treatment. It may occur following intracellular bacterial and viral infections, and occasionally happens after vaccination with VV for smallpox. During infections there can be a delicate balance between the ability of immune responses to provide protective immunity, and the tendency to induce immunopathology. By using the mouse model of heterologous immunity between LCMV and VV, we tried to understand how the immunity to LCMV biased the balance between the protective immunity and immunopathology, and what effector molecules were responsible for the pathogenesis of panniculitis in this system.

TNF is a pleiotropic cytokine, which is required for normal innate and adaptive immune responses. Its functions range from inducing proliferative responses including cell survival, to destructive responses such as promoting apoptosis and programmed necrosis. In response to inflammatory stimuli, activated macrophages/ monocytes produce large amounts of TNF, and upon activation, T cells, B cells and NK cells also produce TNF. In vitro and in vivo studies have shown that TNF in synergy with IFN-γ plays an important role in mediating host defense against pathogens, such as Listeria monocytogenesand poxviruses in mice and hepatitis B virus and human immunodeficiency virus in humans. However, inappropriate expression of TNF often results in tissue damage. Considering the important role TNF plays in both host defense and mediating autoimmune diseases, we hypothesized that TNF was required for mediating both protective and pathogenic effects in the heterologous immunity between LCMV and VV.

We first examined whether TNF was involved in mediating protective heterologous immunity. LCMV-immune mice, that were TNF-deficient as a consequence of genetic deletion (TNF-/-) or receptor blockade by treatment with etanercept (TNFR2: Fc fusion protein), were challenged with VV. These TNF-deficient mice showed normal recruitment and selective expansion of cross-reactive LCMV-specific memory CD8 T cells. They also exhibited efficient clearance of VV similar to LCMV-immune mice with normal TNF function. Thus, we concluded that neither TNF nor lymphotoxin (LT), which uses the same receptors as TNF, was required in mediating protective heterologous immunity against VV. Indeed, prior immunity to LCMV could completely compensate for the role of TNF in protection of naïve mice against VV infection, even under conditions of lethal dose inoculum. Thus, heterologous immunity may help explain why treatment of humans with etanercept is reasonably well tolerated with relatively few infectious complications.

One of the histological characteristics of panniculitis is necrosis of adipose tissue. It is known that three members in the TNF superfamily, i.e. TNF/LT, FasL and TRAIL are able to induce necrosis of a target cell. It is also known that TNF is able to induce VV-infected cells to go through necrosis, when apoptosis is blocked in these cells by VV protein. Furthermore, TNF and FasL have already been shown to be associated with some skin and fat pathology. Thus, we hypothesized that TNF, FasL and TRAIL were involved in the pathogenesis of panniculitis in VV infected LCMV-immune mice. By using blocking antibodies or genetically deficient mice, we demonstrated that both TNF/LT and FasL were crucial for inducing panniculitis. Although TNFR1 has been reported to induce programmed necrosis, our data indicated that TNFR2, not TNFR1, was involved in mediating tissue damage in the fat pads of LCMV-immune mice infected with VV. We also found that TNF signaled through TNFR2 to up-regulate the expression of Fas on adipocytes. Thus, the engagement of Fas on the adipocytes with FasL expressed on activated VV-specific and cross-reactive LCMV-specific CD8 T cells in the fat pads could lead to panniculitis. Thus, our data may identify a potential mechanism in the pathogenesis of human panniculitis, and may suggest a possible treatment for this painful disease.

Recent reports suggest that heterologous immunity may contribute to the tremendous variation in symptoms between individuals, from subclinical to death, upon viral infection. Even in genetically identical mice, variations in immunopathology from none to life-threatening levels of pathology are observed in LCMV-immune mice during VV infection. By adoptive transfer of splenocytes from a single LCMV-immune donor into two recipients, we showed that similar levels of pathology were generated in mice receiving the same splenocytes. However, the level of pathology varied among recipients receiving splenocytes from different LCMV-immune donors. The difference in levels of VV-induced pathology observed in individual LCMV-immune mice was a reflection of the private specificity of the T cell repertoire, which is a unique characteristic of each individual immune host.

The goal of this doctoral thesis is to understand how heterologous immunity contributes to the pathogenesis of panniculitis. Our data demonstrate that TNF/LT and FasL directly contribute to development of panniculitis in LCMV-immune mice during VV infection, and suggest that anti-TNF treatment might be a useful treatment for diseases, such as erythema nodosum and lupus-induced acute fatty necrosis in humans.



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