Memory of mice and men: CD8+ T-cell cross-reactivity and heterologous immunity


Liisa K. Selin, MD, PhD
Associate Professor
Department of Pathology
University of Massachusetts Medical School
55 Lake Avenue North
Worcester, MA 01655
Tel.: +1 508 856 3039
Fax: +1 508 856 0019


Summary:  The main functions of memory T cells are to provide protection upon re-exposure to a pathogen and to prevent the re-emergence of low-grade persistent pathogens. Memory T cells achieve these functions through their high frequency and elevated activation state, which lead to rapid responses upon antigenic challenge. The significance and characteristics of memory CD8+ T cells in viral infections have been studied extensively. In many of these studies of T-cell memory, experimental viral immunologists go to great lengths to assure that their animal colonies are free of endogenous pathogens in order to design reproducible experiments. These experimental results are then thought to provide the basis for our understanding of human immune responses to viruses. Although these findings can be enlightening, humans are not immunologically naïve, and they often have memory T-cell populations that can cross-react with and respond to a new infectious agent or cross-react with allo-antigens and influence the success of tissue transplantation. These cross-reactive T cells can become activated and modulate the immune response and outcome of subsequent heterologous infections, a phenomenon we have termed heterologous immunity. These large memory populations are also accommodated into a finite immune system, requiring that the host makes room for each new population of memory cell. It appears that memory cells are part of a continually evolving interactive network, where with each new infection there is an alteration in the frequencies, distributions, and activities of memory cells generated in response to previous infections and allo-antigens.