Search tips
Search criteria 


Logo of nihpaAbout Author manuscriptsSubmit a manuscriptHHS Public Access; Author Manuscript; Accepted for publication in peer reviewed journal;
J Immunol. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2010 April 30.
Published in final edited form as:
PMCID: PMC2861783

Cutting Edge: Shift in Antigen Dependence by an Antiviral MHC Class Ib-restricted CD8 T Cell Response During Persistent Viral Infection1


The requirement for Ag in maintaining memory CD8 T cells often differs between infections that are acutely resolved and those that persist. Using the mouse polyoma virus (PyV) persistent infection model, we recently described a novel CD8 T cell response directed to a PyV peptide presented by Q9, an MHC class Ib molecule. This antiviral Q9-restricted CD8 T cell response is characterized by a 3-mo expansion phase followed by a long-term plateau phase. In this study, we demonstrate that viral Ag is required for this protracted inflation phase, but is dispensable for the maintenance of this Q9-restricted CD8 T cell response. Moreover, proliferation by memory T cells, not recruitment of naïve PyV-specific T cells, is primarily responsible for Q9-restricted anti-PyV CD8 T cell inflation. These data reveal a dynamic shift in Ag dependence by an MHC class Ib-restricted memory CD8 T cell response during a persistent viral infection.

Keywords: Polyoma virus, CD8 T cell, MHC class Ib, Memory


CD8 T cell responses to acutely cleared viral infections are characterized by rapid expansion followed by dramatic contraction and differentiation into memory cells that self-renew in a cytokine-dependent, antigen-independent manner (15). In contrast, memory CD8 T cells in persistent viral infections may suffer defects in homeostatic proliferation, with the severity of this dysfunction associated with level, duration, and pathogenesis of the infection (6, 7). For example, maintenance of antiviral memory CD8 T cells in high-level systemic chronic lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) infection requires cognate antigen but not IL-7 and IL-15 (8). Low-level systemic viral infections, however, appear to inflict a different insult on antiviral CD8 T cell responses. Depending on their epitope specificity, antiviral CD8 T cell numbers in mice infected by murine CMV (MCMV) increase over the course of infection then stabilize at high frequencies, a phenomenon termed memory inflation (9, 10). Similarly, CMV-specific CD8 T cells in humans accumulate throughout an individual’s lifetime (11). Conventional MHC class Ia-restricted antiviral CD8 T cells in mice persistently infected by polyoma virus (PyV) fail to divide and are gradually lost, with maintenance of stable numbers of antiviral CD8 T cells requiring ongoing recruitment of virus-specific naïve CD8 T cell progenitors (12).

Using the PyV infection-mouse model, we recently uncovered a novel protective MHC class Ib-restricted CD8 T cell response, whose expansion profile differs dramatically from that of conventional class Ia-restricted anti-PyV CD8 T cells (13). These unconventional CD8 T cells recognize a peptide derived from amino acids 139-148 of the PyV VP2 capsid protein (VP2.139) presented by the nonpolymorphic molecule Q9, a member of the Qa-2 family of class Ib molecules. In PyV-infected MHC class Ia-deficient mice, the Q9/VP2.139-specific CD8 T cell response progressively expands for approximately 12 wks, then enters a long-term plateau phase. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that cognate antigen regulates inflation of these MHC class Ib-restricted antiviral CD8 T cells.



C57BL/6NCr (B6) female mice were purchased from the National Cancer Institute (Frederick, MD). B6.Kb−/−Db−/− (Kb−/−Db−/−) mice (Thy1.2) were obtained from Taconic Farms; Kb−/−Db−/−Thy1.1 (14) mice were kindly provided by Peter Jensen (University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT). Mice were bred and housed by the Division of Animal Resources at Emory University in accordance with the guidelines of the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee of Emory University. Mice were 6–8 wks old at the time of infection.

Viruses and cell transfers

Kb−/−Db−/− and B6 mice were infected s.c. with 1 × 106 PFU PyV. A recombinant vaccinia virus carrying the PyV VP2 gene (VV-VP2) (15) was kindly provided by Richard Consigli (Kansas State University, Manhattan, KS); Kb−/−Db−/− mice received 1 × 106 PFU VV-VP2 i.p. The A2.H145A mutant virus was created as described (13). Splenocytes from PyV-infected Kb−/−Db−/− mice were B cell-depleted, labeled with 5 μm CFSE, and injected i.v. (50 × 106 cells) into infected Kb−/−Db−/−Thy1.1 mice.

Flow cytometry

Anti-CD3ε, anti-CD8α, anti-Thy1.1, anti-Ki67, Annexin V, propidium iodide (PI), 7-AAD and a TCR Vβ antibody panel were purchased from BD Biosciences and used as described (16). Q9/VP2.139 tetramers were constructed using either cloned full-length Q9 cDNA (17) or Q9 cDNA encoding the α3 domain of H-2Db in place of that of Q9. Both tetramers stained equivalent percentages of splenocytes from PyV-infected Kb−/−Db−/− mice with the same mean fluorescence intensity and were used interchangeably, as described (13). Samples were acquired on a FACSCalibur (BD Biosciences) and data analyzed using FlowJo software (Tree Star, Inc.).

Bone marrow chimerism

Persistently infected Kb−/−Db−/− mice given 600 μg busulfan (Busulfex; Otsuka America Pharmaceutical, Inc., Rockville, MD) i.p. were injected i.v. 24 h later with 25 × 106 CD3-depleted bone marrow cells from Kb−/−Db−/−Thy1.1 mice. After CD3 depletion using anti-CD3ε and MACS sorting only 0.4% of mononuclear cells expressed CD3.


Persistent infection is associated with the Q9/VP2.139-specific CD8 T cell inflationary response

PyV-infected Kb−/−Db−/− mice generate a VP2.139-specific CD8 T cell response that progressively increases over the first 3 mos after infection (13). Inflationary CD8 T cell responses have been observed in several different persistent viral infections, with one report showing that persistent infection is necessary for the prolonged expansion of antigen specific cells (16). To determine whether persistent viral infection was necessary for the protracted expansion of VP2.139-specific CD8 T cells, we compared the Q9/VP2.139-specific CD8 T cell response longitudinally in the blood of individual Kb−/−Db−/− mice infected by either PyV, which establishes a persistent infection (13), or a recombinant vaccinia virus expressing the PyV VP2 protein (VV-VP2), which is cleared after acute infection (unpublished observations). Both viruses generated a VP2.139-specific CD8 T cell response, but after 2 wks this Ag-specific T cell response contracted in VV-VP2-infected mice and was maintained at a low level, whereas, in PyV-infected mice, the frequency of Q9/VP2.139 tetramer+ CD8 T cells progressively increased over the 48-day period of observation (Fig. 1). These data indicate that persistent PyV infection is associated with the inflationary Q9/VP2.139-specific CD8 T cell response.

VP2.139-specific CD8 T cell expansion is associated with persistent viral infection. Percentage of Q9/VP2.139 tetramer+ CD8 T cells in the blood of PyV or VV-VP2-infected Kb−/−Db−/− mice ± SEM over time (n = 3 mice). ...

Naïve Q9/VP2.139-specific CD8 T cell priming during persistent PyV infection

During persistent PyV infection in wild type B6 mice, de novo primed CD8 T cells resupply the short-lived MHC class Ia-restricted CD8 T cells and thereby maintain stable numbers of these antiviral T cells (12). We asked whether naive Q9/VP2.139-specific CD8 T cells similarly contribute to the inflationary response of VP2.139-specific CD8 T cells. To do this, Kb−/−Db−/−mice underwent minimal myeloablative busulfan conditioning midway in the Q9/VP2.139-specific CD8 T cell expansion phase (day 35 p.i.), followed by injection of T cell-depleted, Thy congenic Kb−/−Db−/− bone marrow (Fig. 2A). Fifty days after bone marrow transfer (which just precedes the plateau phase), donor-derived Thy1.1+ Q9/VP2.139 tetramer+ CD8 T cells were detected, but they accounted for only a small fraction of the total VP2.139-specific CD8 T cell response (Fig. 2B). In contrast, virus-specific CD8 T cells recruited in persistently infected wild type B6 mice constitute 10–14% of the total dominant PyV epitope-specific MHC-Ia-restricted CD8 T cell population (18). These results indicate that naïve Q9/VP2.139-specific CD8 T cells are indeed recruited during the protracted expansion phase but that this process does not fully account for the dramatic inflation of this antiviral MHC-Ib-restricted CD8 T cell response.

De novo priming of VP2.139-specific CD8 T cells during persistent infection. Representative dot plots of lymphocytes isolated from indicated organs of Thy congenic mice 50 days after bone marrow transfer (n = 3–4 mice). Plots are gated on CD8 ...

Expansion phase VP2.139-specific CD8 T cells are highly proliferative

We next investigated the relative contributions of proliferation and survival of VP2.139-specific CD8 T cells over the course of their long-term expansion phase. Previously, we had observed that around 3 mos p.i. VP2.139-specific CD8 T cells no longer expand but are maintained at high numbers (13). We therefore compared inflation phase VP2.139-specific CD8 T cells (1 mo p.i.) to those from the plateau phase (3 mos p.i.) for expression of molecules marking cell proliferation and survival. A larger fraction of inflation phase VP2.139-specific CD8 T cells expressed Ki67, a cell cycle-related nuclear protein, than those in the plateau phase (Figs. 3A, 3C). In contrast, few VP2.139-specific CD8 T cells in either phase of the response stained with Annexin V, a marker of apoptosis (Figs. 3B, 3C); the anti-apoptotic protein Bcl-2 was expressed by similar frequencies of Q9/VP2.139 tetramer+ CD8 T cells and at comparable MFI at 1 and 3 mos p.i. (unpublished observations). These phenotypic data indicate that VP2.139-specific CD8 T cells survive long-term in a non- or low-proliferative state without appreciable cell death during the plateau phase.

Dynamic phenotype of VP2.139-specific cells over the course of persistent PyV infection. Splenic Q9/VP2.139 tetramer+ cells from PyV-infected Kb−/−Db−/− mice were analyzed for (A) Ki67 or (B) Annexin V and 7-AAD coexpression ...

The strikingly narrow expression of different TCR Vβ families by Q9/VP2.139 tetramer+ CD8 T cells in individual Kb−/−Db−/− mice compared to the diverse Vβ family usage by CD8 T cells in uninfected Kb−/−Db−/− mice (Fig. 3D) further suggests that a particular public clonotype of Q9/VP2.139-specific CD8 T cells does not preferentially expand and dominate this antiviral T cell population. Interestingly, CD8α−/− mice mount an MHC class Ia-restricted PyV-specific T cell response having a similar dramatic narrowing of Vβ expression, with Vβ usage differing between individual mice (16). A salient feature of the Q9 structure, which is otherwise highly homologous to MHC-Ia molecules, is the deviated orientation of an α3 domain loop that renders CD8α subunit binding inefficient (19, 20). Weak to absent (as in CD8α−/− mice) CD8 coreceptor engagement may permit only a trickle of MHC-I-restricted thymic emigrants, with a consequent small oligoclonal reserve of naïve anti-PyV T cell precursors.

Ag is required for VP2.139-specific CD8 T cell proliferation, but not maintenance

To directly investigate the proliferative state and survival of Q9/VP2.139-specific CD8 T cells during PyV infection, we longitudinally monitored the fate of CFSE-labeled Q9/VP2.139 tetramer+ CD8 T cells from donor Kb−/−Db−/− mice at 1 mo p.i. (inflation phase) or 3 mo p.i. (plateau phase) following transfer into infection-matched Thy congenic Kb−/−Db−/− recipients (Fig. 4A). For the 1 mo p.i. donor-to-recipient adoptive cell transfers, the frequency of donor VP2.139-specific CD8 T cells steadily increased over the 30 day post-transfer observation period (Fig. 4A) and this was accompanied by substantial cell division, as indicated by CFSE dilution (Fig. 4C). In contrast, the donor Q9/VP2.139 tetramer+ CD8 T cells exhibited minimal expansion in the 3 mo p.i. donor-to-recipient adoptive cell transfers (Fig. 4A) and failed to divide (Fig. 4C). To exclude the possibility that VP2.139-specific CD8 T cells from the plateau phase suffer a cell-intrinsic proliferation defect, we transferred CFSE-labeled splenocytes from 3 mo p.i. mice to 1 mo p.i. mice. In this experimental setup, VP2.139-specific CD8 T cells from the plateau phase recapitulated the expansion profile and cell division seen by the inflation phase cells (Fig. 4A). This data further suggests that the failure of the plateau phase cells to proliferate is due to insufficient numbers of Q9/VP2.139 epitope+ APCs. To test this possibility, splenocytes from Kb−/−Db−/− mice infected by wild-type PyV (strain A2) 1 mo earlier were transferred to Thy congenic Kb−/−Db−/− mice infected by either A2 virus or a mutant A2 virus, A2.H145A, in which the dominant Q9-anchoring histidine in the seventh position (from the amino terminus) of the VP2.139 epitope was replaced by alanine. An H145A VP2.139-148 analog synthetic peptide fails to compete with the wild type VP2.139-148 peptide in Q9 peptide-binding assays (unpublished observations), and infection by the A2.H145A mutant virus does not induce a Q9/VP2.139-specific CD8 T cell response in Kb−/−Db−/− mice (13). Unlike VP2.139-specific CD8 T cell transfers from 1 mo A2 p.i. donors to A2-infected recipients, those donor anti-PyV cells transferred to A2.H145A-infected recipients did not proliferate (Fig. 4C), yet are stably maintained (Fig. 4B). These findings demonstrate that Ag is required for VP2.139-specific CD8 T cell expansion, but it is dispensable for cell survival.

Inflation, but not survival, of memory VP2.139-specific CD8 T cells is Ag-dependent. A, B cell-depleted spleen cells from wild type PyV (A2 strain)-infected Kb−/−Db−/−Thy1.1 mice at 1 mos or 3 mos p.i. were transferred ...

The phenotype and longevity of expansion phase PyV-specific MHC class Ib-restricted CD8 T cells differ from the inflationary epitope-specific CD8 T cells in MCMV infection. Those epitope-specific CD8 T cells that undergo progressive expansion during persistent MCMV infection are mostly short-lived effector cells, which are replenished primarily from memory cells primed during early stages of infection (21, 22). These MCMV-specific CD8 T cells do not express costimulatory molecules such as CD27 and CD28 nor do they express receptors for the homeostatic cytokines IL-7 and IL-15, which could account for their inability to survive long-term (21, 22). In contrast, the inflationary VP2.139-specific CD8 T cells are long-lived and express CD127, CD122, and bcl-2 [(13) and unpublished observations]. Of note, VP2.139-specific CD8 T cells eventually reach stable high frequencies and are maintained in the absence of homeostatic proliferation. The long-term nonproliferative state of these T cells is reminiscent of LCMV-specific memory CD8 T cells that reside in the intestinal epithelium (23). Whether the differences between inflationary VP2.139-specific and MCMV-specific CD8 T cell responses reflect differences at the level of virus-host interaction or MHC class Ia vs. Ib Ag presentation remain to be determined.

The mechanism by which Ag controls memory CD8 T cell responses may also differ depending on the level of persistent infection. Ag appears to play a dual role in the CD8 T cell response in high-level LCMV clone 13 infection. High levels of Ag during early stages of LCMV clone 13 infection results in selective culling of antiviral CD8 T cells of particular specificities (6, 24, 25), while CD8 T cells directed to other viral epitopes are maintained by Ag-driven proliferation (8). During a low-level persistent viral infection such as MCMV, stable memory virus-specific CD8 T cell responses do not require Ag for homeostatic proliferation or survival, but those that undergo inflation are highly dependent on Ag for expansion (21). Conventional MHC Ia-restricted PyV-specific memory CD8 T cells do not homeostatically proliferate and are short-lived, with the antiviral response maintained during persistent infection by recruitment of PyV-specific naïve CD8 T cells (12). The Ag-dependent inflation and Ag-independent maintenance of the PyV-specific MHC class Ib-restricted CD8 T cell response described here reveal a novel pattern of memory CD8 T cell responses to persistent viral infection.


We thank the NIH Tetramer Core Facility (Emory Vaccine Center) for constructing the Q9/VP2.139 tetramers. We also thank Annette Hadley for expert technical assistance.

Abbreviations in this paper

7-amino-actinomycin D
a wild type PyV strain
a mutant A2 virus with an alanine-to-histidine substitution at aa 145 of the VP2 capsid protein
lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus
mouse CMV
propidium iodide
mouse polyomavirus
aa 139-147 of VP2
vaccinia virus
recombinant VV encoding VP2


1This work was supported by National Institutes of Health grant RO1CA71971.


The authors have no financial conflict of interest.


1. Welsh RM, Selin LK, Szomolanyi-Tsuda E. Immunological memory to viral infections. Annu Rev Immunol. 2004;22:711–743. [PubMed]
2. Becker TC, Wherry EJ, Boone D, Murali-Krishna K, Antia R, Ma A, Ahmed R. Interleukin 15 is required for proliferative renewal of virus-specific memory CD8 T cells. J Exp Med. 2002;195:1541–1548. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
3. Schluns KS, Kieper WC, Jameson SC, Lefrancois L. Interleukin-7 mediates the homeostasis of naive and memory CD8 T cells in vivo. Nat Immunol. 2000;1:426–432. [PubMed]
4. Tan JT, Ernst B, Kieper WC, LeRoy E, Sprent J, Surh CD. Interleukin (IL)-15 and IL-7 jointly regulate homeostatic proliferation of memory phenotype CD8+ cells but are not required for memory phenotype CD4+ cells. J Exp Med. 2002;195:1523–1532. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
5. Murali-Krishna K, Lau LL, Sambhara S, Lemonnier F, Altman J, Ahmed R. Persistence of memory CD8 T cells in MHC class I-deficient mice. Science. 1999;286:1377–1381. [PubMed]
6. Wherry EJ, Blattman JN, Murali-Krishna K, van der Most R, Ahmed R. Viral persistence alters CD8 T-cell immunodominance and tissue distribution and results in distinct stages of functional impairment. J Virol. 2003;77:4911–4927. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
7. Wherry EJ, Ahmed R. Memory CD8 T-cell differentiation during viral infection. J Virol. 2004;78:5535–5545. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
8. Shin H, Blackburn SD, Blattman JN, Wherry EJ. Viral antigen and extensive division maintain virus-specific CD8 T cells during chronic infection. J Exp Med. 2007;204:941–949. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
9. Karrer U, Sierro S, Wagner M, Oxenius A, Hengel H, Koszinowski UH, Phillips RE, Klenerman P. Memory inflation: continuous accumulation of antiviral CD8+ T cells over time. J Immunol. 2003;170:2022–2029. [PubMed]
10. Munks MW, Cho KS, Pinto AK, Sierro S, Klenerman P, Hill AB. Four distinct patterns of memory CD8 T cell responses to chronic murine cytomegalovirus infection. J Immunol. 2006;177:450–458. [PubMed]
11. Gillespie GM, Wills MR, Appay V, O’Callaghan C, Murphy M, Smith N, Sissons P, Rowland-Jones S, Bell JI, Moss PA. Functional heterogeneity and high frequencies of cytomegalovirus-specific CD8+ T lymphocytes in healthy seropositive donors. J Virol. 2000;74:8140–8150. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
12. Vezys V, Masopust D, Kemball CC, Barber DL, O’Mara LA, Larsen CP, Pearson TC, Ahmed R, Lukacher AE. Continuous recruitment of naive T cells contributes to heterogeneity of antiviral CD8 T cells during persistent infection. J Exp Med. 2006;203:2263–2269. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
13. Swanson PA, II, Pack CD, Hadley A, Wang CR, Stroynowski I, Jensen PE, Lukacher AE. An MHC class Ib-restricted CD8 T cell response confers antiviral immunity. J Exp Med. 2008;205:1647–1657. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
14. Jay DC, Reed-Loisel LM, Jensen PE. Polyclonal MHC Ib-restricted CD8+ T cells undergo homeostatic expansion in the absence of conventional MHC-restricted T cells. J Immunol. 2008;180:2805–2814. [PubMed]
15. Stamatos NM, Chakrabarti S, Moss B, Hare JD. Expression of polyomavirus virion proteins by a vaccinia virus vector: association of VP1 and VP2 with the nuclear framework. J Virol. 1987;61:516–525. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
16. Andrews NP, Pack CD, Lukacher AE. Generation of antiviral major histocompatibility complex class I-restricted T cells in the absence of CD8 coreceptors. J Virol. 2008;82:4697–4705. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
17. Cai W, Cao W, Wu L, Exley GE, Waneck GL, Karger BL, Warner CM. Sequence and transcription of Qa-2-encoding genes in mouse lymphocytes and blastocysts. Immunogenetics. 1996;45:97–107. [PubMed]
18. Kemball CC, Lee ED, Vezys V, Pearson TC, Larsen CP, Lukacher AE. Late priming and variability of epitope-specific CD8+ T cell responses during a persistent virus infection. J Immunol. 2005;174:7950–7960. [PubMed]
19. He X, Tabaczewski P, Ho J, Stroynowski I, Garcia KC. Promiscuous antigen presentation by the nonclassical MHC Ib Qa-2 is enabled by a shallow, hydrophobic groove and self-stabilized peptide conformation. Structure (Camb) 2001;9:1213–1224. [PubMed]
20. Teitell M, Holcombe H, Cheroutre H, Aldrich CJ, Stroynowski I, Forman J, Kronenberg M. The α3 domain of the Qa-2 molecule is defective for CD8 binding and cytotoxic T lymphocyte activation. J Exp Med. 1993;178:2139–2145. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
21. Snyder CM, Cho KS, Bonnett EL, van Dommelen S, Shellam GR, Hill AB. Memory inflation during chronic viral infection is maintained by continuous production of short-lived, functional T cells. Immunity. 2008;29:650–659. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
22. Sierro S, Rothkopf R, Klenerman P. Evolution of diverse antiviral CD8+ T cell populations after murine cytomegalovirus infection. Eur J Immunol. 2005;35:1113–1123. [PubMed]
23. Masopust D, Vezys V, Wherry EJ, Barber DL, Ahmed R. Cutting edge: gut microenvironment promotes differentiation of a unique memory CD8 T cell population. J Immunol. 2006;176:2079–2083. [PubMed]
24. Zajac AJ, Blattman JN, Murali-Krishna K, Sourdive DJ, Suresh M, Altman JD, Ahmed R. Viral immune evasion due to persistence of activated T cells without effector function. J Exp Med. 1998;188:2205–2213. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
25. Barber DL, Wherry EJ, Masopust D, Zhu B, Allison JP, Sharpe AH, Freeman GJ, Ahmed R. Restoring function in exhausted CD8 T cells during chronic viral infection. Nature. 2006;439:682–687. [PubMed]