Direct ex vivo analysis of human CD4(+) memory T cell activation requirements at the single clonotype level

J Immunol. 2002 Aug 1;169(3):1207-18. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.169.3.1207.


CD4(+) memory T cells continuously integrate signals transmitted through the TCR and costimulatory molecules, only responding when the intensity of such signals exceeds an intrinsic activation threshold. Recent data suggest that these activation thresholds can be regulated independently of TCR specificity, and that threshold tuning may constitute a major mechanism for controlling T cell effector activity. In this work we take advantage of the profound clonotypic hierarchies of the large human CD4(+) T cell response to CMV to study activation thresholds of fresh (unexpanded) memory T cells at the clonotypic level. We identified dominant responses to CMV matrix determinants mediated by single TCRB sequences within particular TCR-Vbeta families. The specific response characteristics of these single, Ag-specific, TCRB-defined clonotypes could be unequivocally determined in fresh PBMC preparations by cytokine flow cytometry with gating on the appropriate Vbeta family. These analyses revealed 1) optimal peptides capable of eliciting specific responses by themselves at doses as low as 2 pg/ml, with each log increase in dose eliciting ever-increasing frequencies of responding cells over a 4- to 5-log range; 2) significant augmentation of response frequencies at all submaximal peptide doses by CD28- and CD49d-mediated costimulation; 3) differential dose response and costimulatory characteristics for IFN-gamma and IL-2 responses; and 4) no association of activation requirements with the CD27-defined CD4(+) T cell memory differentiation pathway. Taken together these data confirm that triggering heterogeneity exists within individual CD4(+) memory T cell clonotypes in vivo and demonstrate that such single clonotypes can manifest qualitatively different functional responses depending on epitope dose and relative levels of costimulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Antigen-Presenting Cells / physiology
  • Base Sequence
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • Epitopes
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Memory*
  • Interferon-gamma / biosynthesis
  • Interleukin-2 / biosynthesis
  • Lymphocyte Activation*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Phosphoproteins / immunology
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell, alpha-beta / physiology
  • Receptors, CCR7
  • Receptors, Chemokine / physiology
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor Receptor Superfamily, Member 7 / physiology
  • Viral Matrix Proteins / immunology


  • CCR7 protein, human
  • Epitopes
  • Interleukin-2
  • Phosphoproteins
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell, alpha-beta
  • Receptors, CCR7
  • Receptors, Chemokine
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor Receptor Superfamily, Member 7
  • Viral Matrix Proteins
  • cytomegalovirus matrix protein 65kDa
  • Interferon-gamma