Recent studies have defined a novel population of PD-1+ TCF-1+ stem-like CD8 T cells in chronic infections and cancer. These quiescent cells reside in lymphoid tissues, are critical for maintaining the CD8 T cell response under conditions of persistent antigen, and provide the proliferative burst after PD-1 blockade. Here we examined the role of TGF-β in regulating the differentiation of virus-specific CD8 T cells during chronic LCMV infection of mice. We found that TGF-β signaling was not essential for the generation of the stem-like CD8 T cells but was critical for maintaining the stem-like state and quiescence of these cells. TGF-β regulated the unique transcriptional program of the stem-like subset, including upregulation of inhibitory receptors specifically expressed on these cells. TGF-β also promoted the terminal differentiation of exhausted CD8 T cells by suppressing the effector-associated program. Together, the absence of TGF-β signaling resulted in significantly increased accumulation of effector-like CD8 T cells. These findings have implications for immunotherapies in general and especially for T cell therapy against chronic infections and cancer.
© 2022 Hu et al.