Plasmodium remains a major pathogen causing malaria and impairing defense against other infections. Defining how Plasmodium increases susceptibility to heterologous pathogens may lead to interventions that mitigate the severity of coinfections. Previous studies proposed that reduced T cell responses during coinfections are due to diminished recruitment of naive T cells through infection-induced decreases in chemokine CCL21. We found that, although Listeria infections reduced expression of CCL21 in murine spleens, lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV)-specific T cell responses were not impaired during Listeria + LCMV coinfection, arguing against a major role for this chemokine in coinfection-induced T cell suppression. In our experiments, Plasmodium yoelii infection led to a reduced CD8(+) T cell response to a subsequent Listeria infection. We propose an alternative mechanism whereby P. yoelii suppresses Listeria-specific T cell responses. We found that Listeria-specific T cells expanded more slowly and resulted in lower numbers in response to coinfection with P. yoelii. Mathematical modeling and experimentation revealed greater apoptosis of Listeria-specific effector T cells as the main mechanism, because P. yoelii infections did not suppress the recruitment or proliferation rates of Listeria-specific T cells. Our results suggest that P. yoelii infections suppress immunity to Listeria by causing increased apoptosis in Listeria-specific T cells, resulting in a slower expansion rate of T cell responses.
Copyright © 2015 by The American Association of Immunologists, Inc.