Naive CD4+ T cells become memory cells after proliferating in response to their cognate major histocompatibility complex class II (MHCII)-bound peptide and passing through an effector cell stage. The process by which CD4+ memory T cells emerge from the effector cell pool, however, is less well understood than in the case of CD8+ T cells. During certain acute infections, naive CD4+ T cells proliferate and differentiate into various forms of type 1 (Th1) and follicular helper (Tfh) effector cells. We review the evidence that about 10% of the cells in each of these subsets survive to become memory cells that resemble their effector cell pre-cursors. The roles that asymmetric cell division, the TCF-1 transcription factor, metabolic activity, reactive oxygen species, and the IL-7 receptor play in the effector to memory cell transition are discussed. We propose a speculative model in which the metabolic activity needed for rapid clonal expansion also generates toxic products that induce apoptosis in most effector cells. Memory cells then arise from the effector cells in each subset that are at the low end of the metabolic activity spectrum.
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