Overwhelming activation of T cells in acute malaria is associated with severe outcomes. Thus, counter-regulation by anti-inflammatory mechanisms is indispensable for an optimal resolution of disease. Using Plasmodium berghei ANKA (PbA) infection of C57BL/6 mice, we performed a comprehensive analysis of co-inhibitory molecules expressed on CD4+ and CD8+ T cells using an unbiased cluster analysis approach. We identified similar T cell clusters co-expressing several co-inhibitory molecules like programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1) and lymphocyte activation gene 3 (LAG-3) in the CD4+ and the CD8+ T cell compartment. Interestingly, despite expressing co-inhibitory molecules, which are associated with T cell exhaustion in chronic settings, these T cells were more functional compared to activated T cells that were negative for co-inhibitory molecules. However, T cells expressing high levels of PD-1 and LAG-3 also conferred suppressive capacity and thus resembled type I regulatory T cells. To our knowledge, this is the first description of malaria-induced CD8+ T cells with suppressive capacity. Importantly, we found an induction of T cells with a similar co-inhibitory rich phenotype in Plasmodium falciparum-infected patients. In conclusion, we demonstrate that malaria-induced T cells expressing co-inhibitory molecules are not exhausted, but acquire additional suppressive capacity, which might represent an immune regulatory pathway to prevent further activation of T cells during acute malaria.
Keywords: T cells; immune regulation; immunopathology; inhibitory receptors; malaria.
© 2021 The Authors. European Journal of Immunology published by Wiley-VCH GmbH.