Eomes broadens the scope of CD8 T-cell memory by inhibiting apoptosis in cells of low affinity

by Inga Kavazović, Hongya Han, Giulia Balzaretti, Erik Slinger, Niels A. W. Lemmermann, Anja ten Brinke, Doron Merkler, Jan Koster, Yenan T. Bryceson, Niek de Vries, Stipan Jonjić, Paul L. Klarenbeek, Bojan Polić, Eric Eldering, Felix M. Wensveen

The memory CD8 T-cell pool must select for clones that bind immunodominant epitopes with high affinity to efficiently counter reinfection. At the same time, it must retain a level of clonal diversity to allow recognition of pathogens with mutated epitopes. How the level of diversity within the memory pool is controlled is unclear, especially in the context of a selective drive for antigen affinity. We find that preservation of clones that bind the activating antigen with low affinity depends on expression of the transcription factor Eomes in the first days after antigen encounter. Eomes is induced at low activating signal strength and directly drives transcription of the prosurvival protein Bcl-2. At higher signal intensity, T-bet is induced which suppresses Bcl-2 and causes a relative survival advantage for cells of low affinity. Clones activated with high-affinity antigen form memory largely independent of Eomes and have a proliferative advantage over clones that bind the same antigen with low affinity. This causes high-affinity clones to prevail in the memory pool, despite their relative survival deficit. Genetic or therapeutic targeting of the Eomes/Bcl-2 axis reduces the clonal diversity of the memory pool, which diminishes its ability to respond to pathogens carrying mutations in immunodominant epitopes. Thus, we demonstrate on a molecular level how sufficient diversity of the memory pool is established in an environment of affinity-based selection.

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