Tissue-resident memory T cells

Immunol Rev. 2013 Sep;255(1):165-81. doi: 10.1111/imr.12087.


Tissues such as the genital tract, skin, and lung act as barriers against invading pathogens. To protect the host, incoming microbes must be quickly and efficiently controlled by the immune system at the portal of entry. Memory is a hallmark of the adaptive immune system, which confers long-term protection and is the basis for efficacious vaccines. While the majority of existing vaccines rely on circulating antibody for protection, struggles to develop antibody-based vaccines against infections such as herpes simplex virus (HSV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) have underscored the need to generate memory T cells for robust antiviral control. The circulating memory T-cell population is generally divided into two subsets: effector memory (TEM ) and central memory (TCM ). These two subsets can be distinguished by their localization, as TCM home to secondary lymphoid organs and TEM circulate through non-lymphoid tissues. More recently, studies have identified a third subset, called tissue-resident memory (TRM ) cells, based on its migratory properties. This subset is found in peripheral tissues that require expression of specific chemoattractants and homing receptors for T-cell recruitment and retention, including barrier sites such as the skin and genital tract. In this review, we categorize different tissues in the body based on patterns of memory T-cell migration and tissue residency. This review also describes the rules for TRM generation and the properties that distinguish them from circulating TEM and TCM cells. Finally, based on the failure of recent T-cell-based vaccines to provide optimal protection, we also discuss the potential role of TRM cells in vaccine design against microbes that invade through the peripheral tissues and highlight new vaccination strategies that take advantage of this newly described memory T-cell subset.

Keywords: T cells; T-cell migration; cell lineages and subsets; infectious diseases; vaccines.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Movement / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Memory*
  • Inflammation / immunology
  • Inflammation / metabolism
  • Lymphocyte Activation / immunology
  • Phenotype
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / metabolism
  • Vaccines / immunology
  • Virus Diseases / immunology
  • Virus Diseases / metabolism
  • Viruses / immunology


  • Vaccines