Highly competent, non-exhausted CD8+ T cells continue to tightly control pathogen load throughout chronic Trypanosoma cruzi infection


Trypanosoma cruzi infection is characterized by chronic parasitism of non-lymphoid tissues and is rarely eliminated despite potent adaptive immune responses. This failure to cure has frequently been attributed to a loss or impairment of anti-Tcruzi T cell responses over time, analogous to the T cell dysfunction described for other persistent infections. In this study, we have evaluated the role of CD8+ T cells during chronic Tcruzi infection (>100 dpi), with a focus on sites of pathogen persistence. Consistent with repetitive antigen exposure during chronic infection, parasite-specific CD8+ T cells from multiple organs expressed high levels of KLRG1, but exhibit a preferential accumulation of CD69+ cells in skeletal muscle, indicating recent antigen encounter in a niche for Tcruzi persistence. A significant proportion of CD8+ T cells in the muscle also produced IFNγ, TNFα and granzyme B in situ, an indication of their detection of and functional response to Tcruzi in vivo. CD8+ T cell function was crucial for the control of parasite burden during chronic infection as exacerbation of parasite load was observed upon depletion of this population. Attempts to improve T cell function by blocking PD-1 or IL-10, potential negative regulators of T cells, failed to increase IFNγ and TNFα production or to enhance Tcruzi clearance. These results highlight the capacity of the CD8+ T cell population to retain essential in vivo function despite chronic antigen stimulation and support a model in which CD8+ T cell dysfunction plays a negligible role in the ability of Trypanosoma cruzi to persist in mice.

Angela D. Pack, Matthew H. Collins, Charles S. Rosenberg, Rick L. Tarleton. 2018. PLOS Pathogens. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1007410

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