GSBS Dissertations and Theses

Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Immunology and Microbiology



First Thesis Advisor

Raymond M. Welsh, Ph.D.


Vaccinia virus, Poxviridae Infections, Immunity, Virulence


Vaccinia virus (VAC) is the prototypical member of the orthopoxvirus genus of the poxvirus family and the virus used for smallpox vaccinations. The following describes the testing of VAC variants designed to have similar immuno-protective profiles with decreased pathogenicity, examines the immune response to VAC after lethal infection in wild type and lupus-prone mice, and describes a method that allows for the enumeration of VAC-specific CD8+ T in naïve and VAC-immune mice.

The first part describes work examining VAC Wyeth (VAC-Wy) variants engineered to be less pathogenic in vivo. VAC-Wy variants included genes that code for three immunomodulatory proteins, an interferon-γ (IFNγ) binding protein (B8R), an interleukin 18 (IL-18) binding protein (C12L), and a complement binding protein (C3L, or C21L) or various combinations of the three knockouts, and a triple knockout (VAC-Wy -/-/-) in which all three genes were knocked out of a variant virus.

The immunomodulatory effects of other IFNγ binding proteins on VAC-Wy pathogenesis in the mouse were also examined. Virus recombinants where the B8R gene was replaced with a truncated mouse IFNγ receptor gene or a gene that encodes a B8R/IFNγ fusion that allows for dimerization of the secreted IFNγ receptor were studied.

As the knockouts and variants were made in the current vaccine VAC-Wy strain, only high dose (1x107 PFU’s) intra nasal (I.N.) infection of mice reliably resulted in detectable virus in the lungs. Further testing revealed that all knockout and variant viruses grew to similar levels after high dose I.N. infections.

Protection induced by vaccination with the VAC-Wy variants was studied in comparison to immunizations with the VAC-Wy parental strain. Mice were immunized by tail skin scarification to mimic human immunizations, and this was followed months later by I.N. challenge with 20 LD50’s of VAC-WR. All VAC-Wy recombinants tested, including the VAC-Wy -/-/-, provided similar levels of protection as the parental VAC-Wy strain from a lethal VAC-WR I.N. infection. Mice immunized with the VAC-Wy -/-/- induced similar amounts of neutralizing antibody and similar numbers of CD8+ T cells specific to a subdominant determinant as VAC-Wy.

While examining high dose, normally lethal, VAC-WR I.N. infections, a profound splenic CD8+ T cell immune suppression was noted that might have been caused by Fas dependent activation induced cell death (AICD). Using high dose intra-peritoneal (I.P.) and I.N. models of VAC-WR infection, decreased weight loss, decreased virus titers, and increased T cell numbers were found in Fas mutant (B6.MRL-Faslpr/J) mice in comparison to B6 wild type mice on day 6. It would be expected that Fas-deficient CD8+ T cells from B6.MRL-Faslpr/J mice (B6-lpr) would survive a high dose VAC-WR infection better than CD8+ T cells that could express Fas if T cells were being eliminated by Fas-dependent AICD, but co-adoptive transfer experiments using splenocytes from B6-lpr and B6.Cg- IgHaThy-1aGPi-1a/J (IgHa) wild type counterparts found no difference in the numbers or proliferation of donor CD8+ T cells at day 6.

As the B6-lpr mice were better protected from VAC-induced weight loss early after lethal VAC-WR infections, it was possible that B6-lpr mice might be protected early in infection. In fact, Fas mutant mice had decreased virus loads in the fat pads, livers, and spleens in comparison to B6 wild type mice at days 2 and 3. In addition to the decreased virus titers, the severe splenic lymphocyte deficiency noted in B6 wild type mice as early as day 2 after high dose I.P. infection was ameliorated in B6-lpr mice. Further experiments demonstrated that uninfected B6-lpr mice had increased numbers of memory phenotype (CD44+) CD4+, CD8+ and γδ+ T cells, with an increased number of γδ+ T cells and NK cells in splenic lymphocytes in comparison to wild type B6 mice. Uninfected B6-lpr mice also had increased numbers of IFNγ+ CD8+ T cells after polyclonal stimulation with an antibody against CD3ε. In lymphocyte depletion experiments performed at day 3, antibody depletion of CD4, CD8, or NK or treatment with an antibody that was specific to the γδ+ TCR did not significantly alter virus loads in B6-lpr mice. In co-adoptive transfer experiments, splenocytes from wild type or B6-lpr mice survived high dose VAC-WR challenge similarly suggesting that B6- lpr splenocytes were not intrinsically better protected from lymphocyte depletion by lack of the Fas protein. On day 2 after high dose I.P. VAC-WR infection, B6- lpr mice had increased numbers of IFNγ+ NK cells, IFNγ+ CD8+ T cells, and IFNγ+ CD4+ T cells. B6-lpr and B6 mice treated with an antibody against IFNγ had significantly increased virus titers in the spleens and livers. Interestingly, there was no significant difference in liver or spleen virus titers when comparing anti- IFNγ antibody treated B6 mice or anti-IFNγ antibody treated B6-lpr mice. These results suggest that multiple leukocyte populations co-operatively or redundantly provide B6-lpr mice with increased protection from high dose VAC-WR infections through increased production of IFNγ.

The third part of this work describes the enumeration of total numbers of pathogen-specific CD8+ T cells in a mouse through use of an in vivo limiting dilution assay (LDA). The extensive proliferation of virus-specific CD8+ T cells that occurs after virus infection was used to enumerate numbers of virus-specific CD8+ T cells in a naïve mouse. By transferring limiting amounts of carboxyfluorescein succinimidyl ester (CFSE)-labeled Thy1.1+Ly5.2+ heterogeneous CD8+ T cells into Thy1.2+Ly5.1+ hosts, CD8+ T cell precursor frequencies to whole viruses can be calculated. The calculations are based on finding the number of donor CD8+ T cells that results in CFSElo (i.e. proliferated) donor CD8 T cells in 50% of the hosts. Using probit or Reed and Muench 50% endpoint calculations, CD8+ T cell precursor determinations were made for naïve and immune states to a virus challenge. It was found that in naïve B6 mice, 1 in 1444 CD8+ T cells proliferated in response to VAC-WR (~13,852 VAC-WR-specific CD8+ T cells per mouse) and 1 in 2956 proliferated in response to lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) (~6,761 LCMV-specific CD8+ T cells per mouse). In mice immune to VAC-WR, the number of VAC-WR-specific LDA precursors, not surprisingly, dramatically increased to 1 in 13 (~1,538,462 VAC-WR- specific CD8+ T cells per mouse) consistent with estimates of VAC-WR-specific memory T cells. In contrast, precursor numbers to LCMV did not increase in VAC-WR-immune mice (1 in 4562, ~4384 LCMV-specific CD8+ T cells in a VAC-WR-immune mouse) consistent with the fact that VAC-WR provides no heterologous immunity to LCMV. Using H-2Db-restricted LCMV GP33-specific P14 transgenic T cells it was found that, after accounting for take of donor T cells, approximately every T cell transferred underwent a full proliferative expansion in response to an LCMV infection and a high efficiency was also seen in memory populations. This suggests that most antigen-specific T cells will proliferate in response to infections at limiting dilution. These results, which are discussed in comparison to other methods, show that naïve and memory CD8+ T cell precursor frequencies to whole viruses can be remarkably high.

In total this work further advances knowledge of the immunity, pathogenesis, and prevention of poxvirus infections. This was accomplished by studying VAC-Wy recombinants as improved vaccines, by examining the mechanisms and cell types important in early protection from high dose poxvirus infections in B6 and B6-lpr mice, and by describing a method to enumerate total numbers of virus-specific CD8+ T cells in a mouse.


Mina O. Seedhom was the 500th PhD recipient from the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (GSBS) at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.



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