West Nile virus-specific CD4 T cells exhibit direct antiviral cytokine secretion and cytotoxicity and are sufficient for antiviral protection

James D. Brien, Jennifer L. Uhrlaub, Janko Nikolich-Zǔgich

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

100 Scopus citations


CD4 T cells have been shown to be necessary for the prevention of encephalitis during West Nile virus (WNV) infection. However, the mechanisms used by Ag-specific CD4 T cells to protect mice from WNV encephalitis remain incompletely understood. Contrary to the belief that CD4 T cells are protective because they merely maintain the CD8 T cell response and improve Ab production, in this study we provide evidence for the direct antiviral activity of CD4 T cells that functions to protect the host from WNV encephalitis. In adoptive transfers, naive CD4 T cells protected a significant number of lethally infected RAG-/- mice, demonstrating the protective effect of CD4 T cells independent of B cells and CD8 T cells. To shed light on the mechanism of this protection, we defined the peptide specificities of the CD4 T cells responding to WNV infection in C57BL/6 (H-2b) mice, and used these peptides to characterize the in vivo function of antiviral CD4 T cells. WNV-specific CD4 T cells produced IFN-γ and IL-2, but also showed potential for in vivo and ex vivo cytotoxicity. Furthermore, peptide vaccination using CD4 epitopes conferred protection against lethal WNV infection in immunocompetent mice. These results demonstrate the role of direct effector function of Ag-specific CD4 T cells in preventing severe WNV disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8568-8575
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Immunology
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 15 2008


ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology

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