The role of cytokines in T-cell memory in health and disease

Immunol Rev. 2018 May;283(1):176-193. doi: 10.1111/imr.12644.


Upon stimulation with their cognate antigen, naive T cells undergo proliferation and differentiation into effector cells, followed by apoptosis or survival as precursors of long-lived memory cells. These phases of a T-cell response and the ensuing maintenance of memory T cells are shaped by cytokines, most notably interleukin-2 (IL-2), IL-7, and IL-15 that share the common γ chain (γc ) cytokine receptor. Steady-state production of IL-7 and IL-15 is necessary for background proliferation and homeostatic survival of CD4+ and CD8+ memory T cells. During immune responses, augmented levels of IL-2, IL-15, IL-21, IL-12, IL-18, and type-I interferons determine the memory potential of antigen-specific effector CD8+ cells, while increased IL-2 and IL-15 cause bystander proliferation of heterologous CD4+ and CD8+ memory T cells. Limiting availability of γc cytokines, reduction in regulatory T cells or IL-10, and persistence of inflammation or cognate antigen can result in memory T cells, which fail to become cytokine-dependent long-lived cells. Conversely, increased IL-7 and IL-15 can expand memory T cells, including pathogenic tissue-resident memory T cells, as seen in lymphopenia and certain chronic-inflammatory disorders and malignancies. These abovementioned factors impact immunotherapy and vaccines directed at memory T cells in cancer and chronic infection.

Keywords: T-cell memory; cancer; interleukin-15 (IL-15); interleukin-2 (IL-2); interleukin-7 (IL-7); psoriasis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Differentiation / immunology
  • Cytokines / metabolism*
  • Disease Susceptibility*
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Cellular*
  • Immunologic Memory*
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / immunology
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Organ Specificity / immunology
  • Psoriasis / genetics
  • Psoriasis / immunology
  • Psoriasis / metabolism
  • Signal Transduction
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / metabolism*


  • Cytokines