Characterization of the metabolic phenotype of rapamycin-treated CD8+ T cells with augmented ability to generate long-lasting memory cells

PLoS One. 2011;6(5):e20107. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0020107. Epub 2011 May 17.


Background: Cellular metabolism plays a critical role in regulating T cell responses and the development of memory T cells with long-term protections. However, the metabolic phenotype of antigen-activated T cells that are responsible for the generation of long-lived memory cells has not been characterized.

Design and methods: Using lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) peptide gp33-specific CD8(+) T cells derived from T cell receptor transgenic mice, we characterized the metabolic phenotype of proliferating T cells that were activated and expanded in vitro in the presence or absence of rapamycin, and determined the capability of these rapamycin-treated T cells to generate long-lived memory cells in vivo.

Results: Antigen-activated CD8(+) T cells treated with rapamycin gave rise to 5-fold more long-lived memory T cells in vivo than untreated control T cells. In contrast to that control T cells only increased glycolysis, rapamycin-treated T cells upregulated both glycolysis and oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS). These rapamycin-treated T cells had greater ability than control T cells to survive withdrawal of either glucose or growth factors. Inhibition of OXPHOS by oligomycin significantly reduced the ability of rapamycin-treated T cells to survive growth factor withdrawal. This effect of OXPHOS inhibition was accompanied with mitochondrial hyperpolarization and elevation of reactive oxygen species that are known to be toxic to cells.

Conclusions: Our findings indicate that these rapamycin-treated T cells may represent a unique cell model for identifying nutrients and signals critical to regulating metabolism in both effector and memory T cells, and for the development of new methods to improve the efficacy of adoptive T cell cancer therapy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / cytology*
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / drug effects
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / metabolism*
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Glucose / deficiency
  • Glucose / pharmacology
  • Glycolysis / drug effects
  • Immunologic Memory / drug effects*
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / deficiency
  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins / pharmacology
  • Interleukin-2 / deficiency
  • Interleukin-2 / pharmacology
  • Membrane Potential, Mitochondrial / drug effects
  • Mice
  • Oligomycins / pharmacology
  • Oxidative Phosphorylation / drug effects
  • Phenotype
  • Reactive Oxygen Species / metabolism
  • Sirolimus / pharmacology*


  • Intercellular Signaling Peptides and Proteins
  • Interleukin-2
  • Oligomycins
  • Reactive Oxygen Species
  • Glucose
  • Sirolimus