The primary immune response to Vaccinia virus vaccination includes cells with a distinct cytotoxic effector CD4 T-cell phenotype

PHIIDO Study Group

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11 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Smallpox was eradicated by a global program of inoculation with Vaccinia virus (VV). Robust VV-specific CD4 T-cell responses during primary infection are likely essential to controlling VV replication. Although there is increasing interest in cytolytic CD4 T-cells across many viral infections, the importance of these cells during acute VV infection is unclear. 

Methods: We undertook a detailed functional and genetic characterization of CD4 T-cells during acute VV-infection of humans. VV-specific T-cells were identified by up-regulation of activation markers directly ex vivo and through cytokine and co-stimulatory molecule expression. At day-13-post primary inoculation with VV, CD38highCD45RO+ CD4 T-cells were purified by cell sorting, RNA isolated and analysed by microarray. Differential expression of up-regulated genes in activated CD4 T-cells was confirmed at the mRNA and protein levels. We compared analyses of VV-specific CD4 T-cells to studies on 12 subjects with primary HIV infection (PHI). VV-specific T-cells lines were established from PBMCs collected post vaccination and checked for cytotoxicity potential. 

Results: A median 11.9% CD4 T-cells were CD38highCD45RO+ at day-13 post-VV inoculation, compared to 3.0% prior and 10.4% during PHI. Activated CD4 T-cells had an up-regulation of genes related to cytolytic function, including granzymes K and A, perforin, granulysin, TIA-1, and Rab27a. No difference was seen between CD4 T-cell expression of perforin or TIA-1 to VV and PHI, however granzyme k was more dominant in the VV response. At 25:1 effector to target ratio, two VV-specific T-cell lines exhibited 62% and 30% cytotoxicity respectively and CD107a degranulation. 

Conclusions: We show for the first time that CD4 CTL are prominent in the early response to VV. Understanding the role of CD4 CTL in the generation of an effective anti-viral memory may help develop more effective vaccines for diseases such as HIV.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5251-5261
Number of pages11
Issue number44
Publication statusPublished - 17 Oct 2016


  • CD4
  • CD8
  • Cytotoxic T-cells
  • Granzyme K
  • HIV
  • Microarray
  • Vaccinia

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