mTOR regulates memory CD8 T-cell differentiation

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Memory CD8 T cells are a critical component of protective immunity, and inducing effective memory T-cell responses is a major goal of vaccines against chronic infections and tumours1,2,3. Considerable effort has gone into designing vaccine regimens that will increase the magnitude of the memory response, but there has been minimal emphasis on developing strategies to improve the functional qualities of memory T cells4. Here we show that mTOR (mammalian target of rapamycin5, also known as FRAP1) is a major regulator of memory CD8 T-cell differentiation, and in contrast to what we expected, the immunosuppressive drug rapamycin has immunostimulatory effects on the generation of memory CD8 T cells. Treatment of mice with rapamycin following acute lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus infection enhanced not only the quantity but also the quality of virus-specific CD8 T cells. Similar effects were seen after immunization of mice with a vaccine based on non-replicating virus-like particles. In addition, rapamycin treatment also enhanced memory T-cell responses in non-human primates following vaccination with modified vaccinia virus Ankara. Rapamycin was effective during both the expansion and contraction phases of the T-cell response; during the expansion phase it increased the number of memory precursors, and during the contraction phase (effector to memory transition) it accelerated the memory T-cell differentiation program. Experiments using RNA interference to inhibit expression of mTOR, raptor (also known as 4932417H02Rik) or FKBP12 (also known as FKBP1A) in antigen-specific CD8 T cells showed that mTOR acts intrinsically through the mTORC1 (mTOR complex 1) pathway to regulate memory T-cell differentiation. Thus these studies identify a molecular pathway regulating memory formation and provide an effective strategy for improving the functional qualities of vaccine- or infection-induced memory T cells.

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Figure 1: Rapamycin enhances the number and quality of virus-specific memory CD8 T cells.
Figure 2: Rapamycin treatment during T-cell expansion phase increases the number of memory precursors.
Figure 3: Rapamycin treatment during effector to memory transition phase accelerates memory differentiation.
Figure 4: mTOR acts intrinsically in antigen-specific CD8 T cells through the mTORC1 pathway to regulate memory T-cell differentiation.


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We thank B. T. Konieczny for technical assistance; D. Garber for providing us with the MVA; R. Amara for help developing rhesus macaque assays; W. Hahn for providing pMKO.1 GFP vector; and E. Strobert and P. L. Turner for technical assistance. This work was supported by NIH grants AI030048 (to R.A.) and N01-AI-50025 and AI040519 (to C.P.L).

Author Contributions K.A. and R.A. designed mouse experiments; A.P.T., V.O.S., S.G. and C.P.L designed macaque experiments; K.A. performed mouse experiments; A.P.T., V.O.S. and S.G. performed macaque experiments; K.A. and R.A. analysed mouse data; K.A., A.P.T., V.O.S., S.G. and C.P.L analysed macaque data; S.A.K. and M.F.B. provided critical reagents; and K.A. and R.A. wrote the paper.

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Correspondence to Rafi Ahmed.

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Araki, K., Turner, A., Shaffer, V. et al. mTOR regulates memory CD8 T-cell differentiation. Nature 460, 108–112 (2009) doi:10.1038/nature08155

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