Selection of CD8+ T cells with highly focused specificity during viral persistence in the central nervous system

Norman W. Marten, Stephen A. Stohlman, Wendy Smith-Begolka, Stephen D. Miller, Emmanuel Dimacali, Qin Yao, Sheldon Stohl, Joan Goverman, Cornelia C. Bergmann*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


The relationships between T cell populations during primary viral infection and persistence are poorly understood. Mice infected with the ueurotropic JHMV strain of mouse hepatitis virus mount potent regional CTL responses that effectively reduce infectious virus; nevertheless, viral RNA persists in the central nervous system (CNS). To evaluate whether persistence influences Ag-specific CD8+ T cells, functional TCR diversity was studied in spleen and CNS-derived CTL populations based on differential recognition of variant peptides for the dominant nucleocapsid epitope. Increased specificity of peripheral CTL from persistently infected mice for the index epitope compared with immunized mice suggested T cell selection during persistence. This was confirmed with CD8+ T cell clones derived from the CNS of either acutely (CTL(ac)) or persistently (CTL(per)) infected mice. Whereas CTL(ac) clones recognized a broad diversity of amino acid substitutions, CTL(per) clones exhibited exquisite specificity for the wild-type sequence. Highly focused specificity was CD8 independent but correlated with longer complementarity-determining regions 3 characteristic of CTL(per) clonotypes despite limited TCR α/β-chain heterogeneity. Direct ex vivo analysis of CNS-derived mononuclear cells by IFN-γ, enzyme-linked immunospot assay confirmed the selection of T cells with narrow Ag specificity during persistence at the population level. These data suggest that broadly reactive CTL during primary infection are capable of controlling potentially emerging mutations. By contrast, the predominance of CD8+ T cells with dramatically focused specificity during persistence at the site of infection and in the periphery supports selective pressure driven by persisting Ag.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3905-3914
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Immunology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Apr 1 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


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