The co-stimulatory molecule CD28 is essential for activation of helper T cells. Despite this critical role, it is not known whether CD28 has functions in maintaining T cell responses following activation. To determine the role for CD28 after T cell priming, we generated a strain of mice where CD28 is removed from CD4+ T cells after priming. We show that continued CD28 expression is important for effector CD4+ T cells following infection; maintained CD28 is required for the expansion of T helper type 1 cells, and for the differentiation and maintenance of T follicular helper cells during viral infection. Persistent CD28 is also required for clearance of the bacterium Citrobacter rodentium from the gastrointestinal tract. Together, this study demonstrates that CD28 persistence is required for helper T cell polarization in response to infection, describing a novel function for CD28 that is distinct from its role in T cell priming.
Invasion by a bacterium or virus typically activates a mammalian host's immune system to eliminate the pathogen. The cells of the so-called ‘innate immune system’ are the body's first line of defense against infection, and these cells patrol the organs and tissues in an effort to locate and eliminate pathogens quickly. The innate immune response is rapid and non-specific, but often cannot completely clear an infection. When necessary, innate immune cells will escalate the immune response by activating the second branch of the immune system, called the ‘adaptive immune system’. This specifically targets and eradicates an invading pathogen.
T cells are essential components of the adaptive immune system, and these cells can be readily distinguished from other types of cell by proteins called T cell receptors (or TCRs) found on their surface. There are also different types of T cell, each with a specific function. T helper cells, for example, help other adaptive immune cells to mature and activate, which involves these immune cells proliferating and developing into more specialized cells.
For a T cell to activate, two events must occur at the same time. First, the TCR must recognize and bind to a fragment of the pathogen that is presented to it by an innate immune cell. And second, ‘co-stimulatory molecules’ present on the surfaces of both the T cell and the same innate immune cell must interact. Using these two signals to activate a T cell helps to ensure the adaptive immune response is not ‘unleashed‘ unnecessarily.
Co-stimulatory molecules have become popular targets for therapies aimed at treating autoimmune disorders—where the immune system attacks and destroys the body's own tissues. One of the most well studied co-stimulatory molecules expressed by T cells is called CD28; however, it remained unknown whether CD28 is involved in any processes after T cell activation.
Now, Linterman et al. reveal that the CD28 co-stimulatory molecule plays a number of roles in addition to T cell activation. For example, a newly developed mouse model showed that CD28 must remain on the surface of T helper cells after they have been activated for these cells to effectively specialize. Linterman et al. also discovered that CD28 helps different T helper cell subtypes to develop.
Linterman et al. demonstrate that CD28 is critical throughout a host's response to infection, and suggest that if CD28 is lost on activated T cells (which happens during aging, HIV infection and autoimmune diseases) the responses of T helper cells become limited. Furthermore, these findings reveal that treatments that target the CD28 co-stimulatory molecule will also affect on-going immune responses.