The dynamics of when and where CD4(+) T cells provide help for CD8(+) T cell priming and which dendritic cells (DCs) activate CD4(+) T cells in vivo after localized infection are poorly understood. By using a cutaneous herpes simplex virus infection model combined with intravital 2-photon imaging of the draining lymph node (LN) to concurrently visualize pathogen-specific CD4(+) and CD8(+) T cells, we found that early priming of CD4(+) T cells involved clustering with migratory skin DCs. CD8(+) T cells did not interact with migratory DCs and their activation was delayed, requiring later clustering interactions with LN-resident XCR1(+) DCs. CD4(+) T cells interacted with these late CD8(+) T cell clusters on resident XCR1(+) DCs. Together, these data reveal asynchronous T cell activation by distinct DC subsets and highlight the key role of XCR1(+) DCs as the central platform for cytotoxic T lymphocyte activation and the delivery of CD4(+) T cell help.
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