Surface Phenotype and Functionality of WNV Specific T Cells Differ with Age and Disease Severity
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West Nile virus (WNV) infection can result in severe neuroinvasive disease, particularly in persons with advanced age. As rodent models demonstrate that T cells play an important role in limiting WNV infection, and strong T cell responses to WNV have been observed in humans, we postulated that inadequate antiviral T cell immunity was involved in neurologic sequelae and the more severe outcomes associated with age. We previously reported the discovery of six HLA-A*0201 restricted WNV peptide epitopes, with the dominant T cell targets in naturally infected individuals being SVG9 (Env) and SLF9 (NS4b). Here, memory phenotype and polyfunctional CD8+ T cell responses to these dominant epitopes were assessed in 40 WNV seropositive patients displaying diverse clinical symptoms. The patients' PBMC were stained with HLA-I multimers loaded with the SVG9 and SLF9 epitopes and analyzed by multicolor flow cytometry. WNV-specific CD8+ T cells were found in peripheral blood several months post infection. The number of WNV-specific T cells in older individuals was the same, if not greater, than in younger members of the cohort. WNV-specific T cells were predominantly monofunctional for CD107a, MIP-1β, TNFα, IL-2, or IFNγ. When CD8+ T cell responses were stratified by disease severity, an increased number of terminally differentiated, memory phenotype (CD45RA+ CD27- CCR7- CD57+) T cells were detected in patients suffering from viral neuroinvasion. In conclusion, T cells of a terminally differentiated/cytolytic profile are associated with neuroinvasion and, regardless of age, monofunctional T cells persist following infection. These data provide the first indication that particular CD8+ T cell phenotypes are associated with disease outcome following WNV infection.
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