Despite the generation of Mycobacterium tuberculosis-specific T cell immune responses during the course of infection, only 5 to 10% of exposed individuals develop active disease, while others develop a latent infection. This phenomenon suggests defective M. tuberculosis-specific immunity, which necessitates more careful characterization of M. tuberculosis-specific T cell responses. Here, we longitudinally analyzed the phenotypes and functions of M. tuberculosis-specific T cells. In contrast to the functional exhaustion of T cells observed after chronic infection, M. tuberculosis-specific CD8+ T cells differentiated into either effector (CD127lo CD62Llo) or effector memory (CD127hi CD62Llo) cells, but not central memory cells (CD127hi CD62Lhi), with low programmed death 1 (PD-1) expression, even in the presence of high levels of bacteria. Additionally, M. tuberculosis-specific CD8+ and CD4+ T cells produced substantial levels of tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) and gamma interferon (IFN-γ), but not interleukin 2 (IL-2), upon in vitro restimulation. Among M. tuberculosis-specific CD8+ T cells, CD127hi effector memory cells displayed slower ongoing turnover but greater survival potential. In addition, these cells produced more IFN-γ and TNF-α and displayed lytic activity upon antigen stimulation. However, the effector function of M. tuberculosis-specific CD8+ CD127hi effector memory T cells was inferior to that of canonical CD8+ CD127hi memory T cells generated after acute lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus infection. Collectively, our data demonstrate that M. tuberculosis-specific T cells can differentiate into memory T cells during the course of M. tuberculosis infection independent of the bacterial burden but with limited functionality. These results provide a framework for further understanding the mechanisms of M. tuberculosis infection that can be used to develop more effective vaccines.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Infectious Diseases