Protective immunity against infections cancers relies on the ability of T cells to generate both effector cells that cooperate to eliminate antigens as well as memory cells that can survive for long periods with enhanced abilities to control recurring antigens. Thus, it is crucial to gain a better understanding of the differentiation and function of T cells. My graduate work was focused on the functions of two cytokines, interleukin (IL)-21 and IL-10, in the differentiation of various CD4 and CD8 T cell populations. As a postdoctoral fellow, I am applying my previous knowledge and research skills, in conjunction with my more recent training in mass cytometry and bioinformatics, to define immune signatures (IMS) of protective CD4 and CD8 T cell responses against dengue virus (DENV) infection. These studies will generate new insights into the development of immunotherapies and vaccines that fight DENV as well as other emerging pathogens.

Cytotoxic CD4 T Cells: Differentiation, Function, and Application to Dengue Virus Infection

Yuan Tian, Alessandro Sette, and Daniela Weiskopf

Dengue virus (DENV) has spread through most tropical and subtropical areas of the world and represents a serious public health problem. The control of DENV infection has not yet been fully successful due to lack of effective therapeutics or vaccines. Nevertheless, a better understanding of the immune responses against DENV infection may reveal new strategies for eliciting and improving antiviral immunity. T cells provide protective immunity against various viral infections by generating effector cells that cooperate to eliminate antigens and memory cells that can survive for long periods with enhanced abilities to control recurring pathogens. Following activation, CD8 T cells can migrate to sites of infection and kill infected cells, whereas CD4 T cells contribute to the elimination of pathogens by trafficking to infected tissues and providing help to innate immune responses, B cells, as well as CD8 T cells. However, it is now evident that CD4 T cells can also perform cytotoxic functions and induce the apoptosis of target cells. Importantly, accumulating studies demonstrate that cytotoxic CD4 T cells develop following DENV infections and may play a crucial role in protecting the host from severe dengue disease. We review our current understanding of the differentiation and function of cytotoxic CD4 T cells, with a focus on DENV infection, and discuss the potential of harnessing these cells for the prevention and treatment of DENV infection and disease.

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IL-10 Regulates Memory T Cell Development and the Balance between Th1 and Follicular Th Cell Responses during an Acute Viral Infection

Yuan Tian, Sarah B. Mollo, Laurie E. Harrington, and Allan J. Zajac

T cells provide protective immunity against infections by differentiating into effector cells that contribute to rapid pathogen control and by forming memory populations that survive over time and confer long-term protection. Thus, understanding the factors that regulate the development of effective T cell responses is beneficial for the design of vaccines and immune-based therapies against infectious diseases. Cytokines play important roles in shaping T cell responses, and IL-10 has been shown to modulate the differentiation of CD4 and CD8 T cells. In this study, we report that IL-10 functions in a cell-extrinsic manner early following acute lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus infection to suppress the magnitude of effector Th1 responses as well as the generation of memory CD4 and CD8 T cells. We further demonstrate that the blockade of IL-10 signaling during the priming phase refines the functional quality of memory CD4 and CD8 T cells. This inhibition strategy resulted in a lower frequency of virus-specific follicular Th (Tfh) cells and increased the Th1 to Tfh ratio. Nevertheless, neither germinal center B cells nor lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus–specific Ab levels were influenced by the blockade. Thus, our studies show that IL-10 influences the balance between Th1 and Tfh cell differentiation and negatively regulates the development of functionally mature memory T cells.

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IL-21 and T Cell Differentiation: Consider the Context

Yuan Tian, and Allan J. Zajac

Accumulating studies demonstrate that IL-21 modulates the differentiation of various CD4 and CD8 T cell subsets and provide insights into the underlying cellular and molecular processes that are influenced by this cytokine. Intriguingly, the effects of IL-21 on T cells can be complex and vary depending on the experimental system used. We review our current understanding of the roles of IL-21 in the generation of phenotypically distinct CD4 and CD8 T cell populations and discuss the potential environmental cues, cellular factors, and molecular mediators that impact the actions of IL-21. We propose that IL-21 acts in a context-dependent manner to accentuate T cell subset development.

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A Context-Dependent Role for IL-21 in Modulating the Differentiation, Distribution, and Abundance of Effector and Memory CD8 T Cell Subsets

Yuan Tian, Maureen A. Cox, Shannon M. Kahan, Jennifer T. Ingram, Rakesh K. Bakshi, and Allan J. Zajac

The activation of naive CD8 T cells typically results in the formation of effector cells (TE) as well as phenotypically distinct memory cells that are retained over time. Memory CD8 T cells can be further subdivided into central memory, effector memory (TEM), and tissue-resident memory (TRM) subsets, which cooperate to confer immunological protection. Using mixed bone marrow chimeras and adoptive transfer studies in which CD8 T cells either do or do not express IL-21R, we discovered that under homeostatic or lymphopenic conditions IL-21 acts directly on CD8 T cells to favor the accumulation of TE/TEM populations. The inability to perceive IL-21 signals under competitive conditions also resulted in lower levels of TRM phenotype cells and reduced expression of granzyme B in the small intestine. IL-21 differentially promoted the expression of the chemokine receptor CX3CR1 and the integrin α4β7 on CD8 T cells primed in vitro and on circulating CD8 T cells in the mixed bone marrow chimeras. The requirement for IL-21 to establish CD8 TE/TEM and TRM subsets was overcome by acute lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus infection; nevertheless, memory virus-specific CD8 T cells remained dependent on IL-21 for optimal accumulation in lymphopenic environments. Overall, this study reveals a context-dependent role for IL-21 in sustaining effector phenotype CD8 T cells and influencing their migratory properties, accumulation, and functions.

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