Distinct molecular pathways govern the differentiation of CD8+ effector T cells into memory or exhausted T cells during acute and chronic viral infection, but these are not well studied in humans. Here, we employed an integrative systems immunology approach to identify transcriptional commonalities and differences between virus-specific CD8+ T cells from patients with persistent and spontaneously resolving hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection during the acute phase. We observed dysregulation of metabolic processes during early persistent infection that was linked to changes in expression of genes related to nucleosomal regulation of transcription, T cell differentiation, and the inflammatory response and correlated with subject age, sex, and the presence of HCV-specific CD4+ T cell populations. These early changes in HCV-specific CD8+ T cell transcription preceded the overt establishment of T cell exhaustion, making this signature a prime target in the search for the regulatory origins of T cell dysfunction in chronic viral infection.
Keywords: CD4 T cell help; CD8 T cells; T cell dysfunction; adaptive immunity; hepatitis C virus; metabolism; network analysis; nucleosome; transcriptional regulation; viral escape.
Copyright © 2017 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.