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This article has been peer reviewed. It was published in: Journal of virology.

Volume 88, Issue 17, 1 September 2014, Pages 10078-10091.

The published version is available at DOI: 10.1128/JVI.01150-14

Copyright © 2014, American Society for Microbiology. All Rights Reserved.


UNLABELLED: The factors that determine CD4+ T cell (TCD4+) specificities, functional capacity, and memory persistence in response to complex pathogens remain unclear. We explored these parameters in the C57BL/6 mouse through comparison of two highly related (>92% homology) poxviruses: ectromelia virus (ECTV), a natural mouse pathogen, and vaccinia virus (VACV), a heterologous virus that nevertheless elicits potent immune responses. In addition to elucidating several previously unidentified major histocompatibility complex class II (MHC-II)-restricted epitopes, we observed many qualitative and quantitative differences between the TCD4+ repertoires, including responses not elicited by VACV despite complete sequence conservation. In addition, we observed functional heterogeneity between ECTV- and VACV-specific TCD4+ at both a global and individual epitope level, particularly greater expression of the cytolytic marker CD107a from TCD4+ following ECTV infection. Most striking were differences during the late memory phase where, in contrast to ECTV, VACV infection failed to elicit measurable epitope-specific TCD4+ as determined by intracellular cytokine staining. These findings illustrate the strong influence of epitope-extrinsic factors on TCD4+ responses and memory.

IMPORTANCE: Much of our understanding concerning host-pathogen relationships in the context of poxvirus infections stems from studies of VACV in mice. However, VACV is not a natural mouse pathogen, and therefore, the relevance of results obtained using this model may be limited. Here, we explored the MHC class II-restricted TCD4+ repertoire induced by mousepox (ECTV) infection and the functional profile of the responding epitope-specific TCD4+, comparing these results to those induced by VACV infection under matched conditions. Despite a high degree of homology between the two viruses, we observed distinct specificity and functional profiles of TCD4+ responses at both acute and memory time points, with VACV-specific TCD4+ memory being notably compromised. These data offer insight into the impact of epitope-extrinsic factors on the resulting TCD4+ responses.

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