Dengue virus (DENV) is a rapidly spreading pathogen with unusual pathogenesis, and correlates of protection from severe dengue disease and vaccine efficacy have not yet been established. Although DENV-specific CD8(+) T-cell responses have been extensively studied, the breadth and specificity of CD4(+) T-cell responses remains to be defined. Here we define HLA-restricted CD4(+) T-cell epitopes resulting from natural infection with dengue virus in a hyperepidemic setting. Ex vivo flow-cytometric analysis of DENV-specific CD4(+) T cells revealed that the virus-specific cells were highly polarized, with a strong bias toward a CX3CR1(+) Eomesodermin(+) perforin(+) granzyme B(+) CD45RA(+) CD4 CTL phenotype. Importantly, these cells correlated with a protective HLA DR allele, and we demonstrate that these cells have direct ex vivo DENV-specific cytolytic activity. We speculate that cytotoxic dengue-specific CD4(+) T cells may play a role in the control of dengue infection in vivo, and this immune correlate may be a key target for dengue virus vaccine development.
Keywords: CD4; HLA DR; T cell memory; cytotoxic; dengue virus.