Indexed on: 11 Nov '11Published on: 11 Nov '11Published in: Journal of virology
Large cytomegalovirus (CMV)-specific CD8 T-cell responses are observed in both young and, somewhat more often, old people. Frequent CMV reactivation is thought to exhaust these cells and render them dysfunctional so that larger numbers of them are needed to control CMV. Expansions of CMV-specific CD4 T cells are also seen but are less well studied. In this study, we examined the T-cell response to the dominant CMV pp65 and IE-1 antigens in healthy CMV-infected people across a wide age range (20 to 84 years) by using multicolor flow cytometry. CMV-specific T cells were characterized by the activation markers CD40 ligand (CD40L), interleukin-2 (IL-2), tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α), and gamma interferon (IFN-γ) and the memory markers CD27 and CD45RA. The proportions of effector memory T cells increased in large responses, as did the proportions of polyfunctional CD8 (IFN-γ(+) IL-2(+/-) TNF-α(+)) and CD4 (CD40L(+/-) IFN-γ(+) IL-2(+) TNF-α(+)) T-cell subsets, while the proportion of naïve T cells decreased. The bigger the CD4 or CD8 T-cell response to pp65, the larger was the proportion of T cells with an advanced memory phenotype in the entire (including non-CMV-specific) T-cell compartment. In addition, the number of activation markers per cell correlated with the degree of T-cell receptor downregulation, suggesting increased antigen sensitivity in polyfunctional cells. In summary, our findings show that polyfunctional CMV-specific T cells were not superseded by dysfunctional cells, even in very large responses. At the same time, however, the memory subset composition of the entire T-cell compartment correlated with the size of the T-cell response to CMV pp65, confirming a strong effect of CMV infection on the immune systems of some, but not all, infected people.