CD4+ T cells play a critical role in the response to chronic viral infections during the acute phase and in the partial containment of infections once chronic infection is established. As infection persists, the virus-specific CD4+ T cell response begins to shift in phenotype. The predominant change described in both mouse and human studies of chronic viral infection is a decrease in detectable T helper type (Th)1 responses. Some Th1 loss is due to decreased proliferative potential and decreased cytokine production in the setting of chronic antigen exposure. However, recent data suggest that Th1 dysfunction is accompanied by a shift in the differentiation pathway of virus-specific CD4+ T cells, with enrichment for cells with a T follicular helper cell (Tfh) phenotype. A Tfh-like program during chronic infection has now been identified in virus-specific CD8+ T cells as well. In this review, we discuss what is known about CD4+ T cell differentiation in chronic viral infections, with a focus on the emergence of the Tfh program and the implications of this shift with respect to Tfh function and the host-pathogen interaction.
Copyright © 2017. Published by Elsevier Ltd.