Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Immunology and Microbiology



First Thesis Advisor

Raymond M. Welsh, PhD


CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes, Cytokines, Interleukin-12, Lymphocyte Activation, Interferon Type I


Dissertations, UMMS; CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes; Cytokines; Interleukin-12; Lymphocyte Activation; Interferon Type I


During an acute virus infection, antigen-specific CD8 T cells undergo clonal expansion and differentiation into effector cells in order to control the infection. Efficient clonal expansion and differentiation of CD8 T cells are required to develop protective memory CD8 T cells. Antigen specific cells require 3 distinct signals for their activation: TCR engagement of peptide-MHC (signal 1), costimulation between B7 and CD28 (signal 2), and inflammatory cytokines including IL-12 or type 1 IFN (signal 3). CD8 T cells that encounter antigen and costimulation undergo programmed cell division, but these two signals alone are not sufficient for full effector cell differentiation and survival into memory. CD8 T cells need a third signal for efficient clonal expansion, differentiation into various effector populations, acquisition of cytolytic effector functions, and memory formation. The requirements for signal 3 cytokines in CD8 T cell activation have only been recently described; however, the timing of exposure to these signals has yet to be investigated. During the course of an immune response not all T cells will see antigen, costimulation, and inflammatory cytokines at the same time or in the same order. I sought to examine how the timing of signal 3 cytokines affected CD8 T cell activation. I questioned how the order of these signals effected CD8 T cell priming and subsequent activation, expansion and differentiation.

In order to study the in vivo effects of out-of-sequence signaling on CD8 T cell activation, I utilized poly(I:C), a dsRNA analogue, which is known to induce a strong type 1 IFN response. Through the use of various congenic transgenic and polyclonal CD8 T cell populations, in conjunction with adoptive transfer models, specific T cells which had been exposed to poly(I:C) induced environments could be identified and tracked over time. I wanted to characterize how out-of-sequence signaling affected T cell activation immediately after cognate antigen stimulation (4-5hours), and after prolonged exposure to cognate antigen (days-weeks).

Considering type 1 IFN can have both inhibitory and stimulatory effects on CD8 T cell proliferation, and when type 1 IFN provides signal 3 cytokine activity, it has positive effects on CD8 T cell expansion, I wanted to investigate the role of type 1 IFN as an out-of-sequence signal during CD8 T cell activation. We identified a transient defect in the phosphorylation of downstream STAT molecules after IFNβ signaling within poly(I:C) pretreated CD8 T cells. The inability of poly(I:C) pretreated CD8 T cells to respond to IFNβ signaling makes these cells behave in a manner more similar to T cells that only received 2 signals, rather than ones that received all 3 signals in the appropriate order. Consequently, poly(I:C) pretreated, or out-of-sequence, CD8 T cells were found to have defects in clonal expansion, effector differentiation and function as well as memory generation resulting in reduced efficacy of viral clearance.

Out-of-sequence CD8 T cells showed suppression of CD8 T cell responses after prolonged exposure to cognate antigen, but naïve CD8 T cells pre-exposed to poly(I:C) exhibited immediate effector function within hours of cognate antigen stimulation, prior to cell division. Poly(I:C) pretreated naïve CD8 T cells acquired an early activated phenotype associated with alterations of transcription factors and surface markers. Changes in naïve CD8 T cell phenotype are thought to be mediated by poly(I:C)-induced upregulation of self-MHC and costimulatory molecules on APCs through direct type 1 IFN signaling. Inoculating with poly(I:C) enabled naive CD8 T cells to produce effector functions immediately upon stimulation with high density cognate antigen, reduced affinity altered peptide ligands (APLs), and in response to reduced concentrations of cognate antigen. Unlike conventional naïve CD8 T cells, poly(I:C) pretreated naïve CD8 T cells acquired the ability to specifically lyse target cells. These studies identified how the timing of activation signals can dramatically affect the acquisition of CD8 T cell effector function.

This thesis describes how CD8 T cell exposure to activation signals in an unconventional order may result in altered response to antigen stimulation. Exposure of naïve CD8 T cells to type 1 IFN and costimulatory molecules in the presence of self-peptides enabled them to respond immediately upon antigen stimulation. Primed naïve CD8 T cells produced multiple cytokines in response to low-affinity, and low-density antigens, and gained ability to specifically lyse target cells. However, immediate effector function may come at the expense of clonal expansion and effector cell differentiation in response to prolonged antigen exposure as out-of-sequence CD8 T cells showed reduced proliferation, effector function and memory formation. The findings presented here may seem contradictory because out-of-sequence signaling can prime T cells to produce immediate effector functions and yet cause defects in T cell expansion and effector differentiation. However, these two models ascertained T cell function at different points after antigen exposure; one where functions were evaluated within hours after seeing cognate antigen, and the other showing T cell responses after days of antigen stimulation.

Studies described in this thesis highlight the growing complexity of CD8 T cell activation. Not only do the presence or absence of signals 1-3 contribute to T cell activation, but the timing of these signals also proves to be of great importance. These studies may describe how both latecomer and third party antigen specific T cells behave when and if they encounter cognate antigen in the midst of an ongoing infection. Out-of-sequence exposure to IFN initially stimulates effector function but at the expense of efficient clonal expansion and subsequent memory formation. The immediate effector function that naïve T cells gain during out-of-sequence priming may explain how some individuals are more resistant to superinfections, whereas the impairment in proliferation describes a universal mechanism of virus-induced immune suppression, explaining how other individuals can be more susceptible to secondary infections. Ultimately, results identified here can be applied to developing better and more effective vaccines.



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