Generating long-lived CD8(+) T-cell memory: Insights from epigenetic programs

Eur J Immunol. 2016 Jul;46(7):1548-62. doi: 10.1002/eji.201545550.


T-cell-based immunological memory has the potential to provide the host with life-long protection against pathogen reexposure and thus offers tremendous promise for the design of vaccines targeting chronic infections or cancer. In order to exploit this potential in the design of new vaccines, it is necessary to understand how and when memory T cells acquire their poised effector potential, and moreover, how they maintain these properties during homeostatic proliferation. To gain insight into the persistent nature of memory T-cell functions, investigators have turned their attention to epigenetic mechanisms. Recent efforts have revealed that many of the properties acquired among memory T cells are coupled to stable changes in DNA methylation and histone modifications. Furthermore, it has recently been reported that the delineating features among memory T cells subsets are also linked to distinct epigenetic events, such as permissive and repressive histone modifications and DNA methylation programs, providing exciting new hypotheses regarding their cellular ancestry. Here, we review recent studies focused on epigenetic programs acquired during effector and memory T-cell differentiation and discuss how these data may shed new light on the developmental path for generating long-lived CD8(+) T-cell memory.

Keywords: CD8+ T cell; DNA methylation; Epigenetics; Histone modification; Memory; T-cell exhaustion.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / cytology
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / metabolism*
  • Cell Differentiation / genetics
  • Cell Differentiation / immunology
  • Cellular Reprogramming / genetics
  • Cellular Reprogramming / immunology
  • DNA Methylation
  • Epigenesis, Genetic*
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Histones / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Memory / genetics*
  • Lymphocyte Activation / genetics
  • Lymphocyte Activation / immunology
  • Transcription, Genetic


  • Histones