CD4+ T cells - often referred to as T-helper cells - play a central role in immune defense and pathogenesis. Virus infections and vaccines stimulate and expand populations of antigen-specific CD4+ T cells in mice and in man. These virus-specific CD4+ T cells are extremely important in antiviral protection: deficiencies in CD4+ T cells are associated with virus reactivation, generalized susceptibility to opportunistic infections, and poor vaccine efficacy. As described below, CD4+ T cells influence effector and memory CD8+ T cell responses, humoral immunity, and the antimicrobial activity of macrophages and are involved in recruiting cells to sites of infection. This review summarizes a few key points about the dynamics of the CD4+ T cell response to virus infection, the positive role of pro-inflammatory cytokines in the differentiation of virus-specific CD4+ T cells, and new areas of investigation to improve vaccines against virus infection.
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