Enhanced CD8 T cell responses through GITR-mediated costimulation resolve chronic viral infection

Chronic infections are characterized by the inability to eliminate the persisting pathogen and often associated with functional impairment of virus-specific T-cell responses. Costimulation through Glucocorticoid-induced TNFR-related protein (GITR) can increase survival and function of effector T cells. Here, we report that constitutive expression of GITR-ligand (GITRL) confers protection against chronic lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) infection, accelerating recovery without increasing pathology. Rapid viral clearance in GITRL transgenic mice coincided with increased numbers of poly-functional, virus-specific effector CD8+ T cells that expressed more T-bet and reduced levels of the rheostat marker PD-1. GITR triggering also boosted the helper function of virus-specific CD4 T cells already early in the infection, as was evidenced by increased IL-2 and IFNγ production, and more expression of CD40L and T-bet. Importantly, CD4-depletion experiments revealed that the expanded pool of virus-specific effector CD8 T cells and the ensuing viral clearance in LCMV-infected GITRL tg mice was entirely dependent on CD4 T cells. We found no major differences for NK cell and regulatory T cell responses, whereas the humoral response to the virus was increased in GITRL tg mice, but only in the late phase of the infection when the virus was almost eradicated. Based on these findings, we conclude that enhanced GITR-triggering mediates its protective, anti-viral effect on the CD8 T cell compartment by boosting CD4 T cell help. As such, increasing costimulation through GITR may be an attractive strategy to increase anti-viral CTL responses without exacerbating pathology, in particular to persistent viruses such as HIV and HCV.

Pascutti MF, Geerman S, Slot E, van Gisbergen KP, Boon L, Arens R, van Lier RA, Wolkers MC, Nolte MA
PLoS Pathog. 2015 Mar 4;11(3)