Heterogeneous Differentiation Patterns of Individual CD8+ T Cells

Science  03 May 2013:
Vol. 340, Issue 6132, pp. 635-639
DOI: 10.1126/science.1235487

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Dynamic Protection

During an immune response, CD8+ T cells are recruited to provide protection. Most cells differentiate into short-lived effectors that help to clear the pathogen, whereas others form long-lived memory cells to protect against reinfection. Gerlach et al. (p. 635, published online 14 March) and Buchholz et al. (p. 630, published online 14 March) used in vivo fate mapping of mouse T cells with a defined specificity during a bacterial infection to show that the dynamics of the single-cell response are not uniform. The response of a particular T cell population is the average of a small number of clones that expand greatly (“large clones”) and many clones that only proliferate at low amounts (“small clones”). The memory pool arises largely from small clones whereas effectors are primarily made up of large clones.


Upon infection, antigen-specific CD8+ T lymphocyte responses display a highly reproducible pattern of expansion and contraction that is thought to reflect a uniform behavior of individual cells. We tracked the progeny of individual mouse CD8+ T cells by in vivo lineage tracing and demonstrated that, even for T cells bearing identical T cell receptors, both clonal expansion and differentiation patterns are heterogeneous. As a consequence, individual naïve T lymphocytes contributed differentially to short- and long-term protection, as revealed by participation of their progeny during primary versus recall infections. The discordance in fate of individual naïve T cells argues against asymmetric division as a singular driver of CD8+ T cell heterogeneity and demonstrates that reproducibility of CD8+ T cell responses is achieved through population averaging.

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