The who's who of T-cell differentiation: human memory T-cell subsets

Eur J Immunol. 2013 Nov;43(11):2797-809. doi: 10.1002/eji.201343751. Epub 2013 Oct 30.


Following antigen encounter and subsequent resolution of the immune response, a single naïve T cell is able to generate multiple subsets of memory T cells with different phenotypic and functional properties and gene expression profiles. Single-cell technologies, first and foremost flow cytometry, have revealed the complex heterogeneity of the memory T-cell compartment and its organization into subsets. However, a consensus has still to be reached, both at the semantic (nomenclature) and phenotypic level, regarding the identification of these subsets. Here, we review recent developments in the characterization of the heterogeneity of the memory T-cell compartment, and propose a unified classification of both human and nonhuman primate T cells on the basis of phenotypic traits and in vivo properties. Given that vaccine studies and adoptive cell transfer immunotherapy protocols are influenced by these recent findings, it is important to use uniform methods for identifying and discussing functionally distinct subsets of T cells.

Keywords: Flow cytometry; Human T-cell subsets; Memory T-cell differentiation; Naïve T cells.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adoptive Transfer
  • Cell Differentiation / immunology*
  • Gene Expression
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Memory / immunology*
  • Immunotherapy, Adoptive
  • Lymphocyte Activation / immunology
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / cytology
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / metabolism