Memory CD8 T cells, generated by natural pathogen exposure or intentional vaccination, protect the host against specific viral infections. It has long been proposed that the number of memory CD8 T cells in the host is inflexible, and that individual cells are constantly competing for limited space. Consequently, vaccines that introduce over-abundant quantities of memory CD8 T cells specific for an agent of interest could have catastrophic consequences for the host by displacing memory CD8 T cells specific for all previous infections. To test this paradigm, we developed a vaccination regimen in mice that introduced as many new long-lived memory CD8 T cells specific for a single vaccine antigen as there were memory CD8 T cells in the host before vaccination. Here we show that, in contrast to expectations, the size of the memory CD8 T-cell compartment doubled to accommodate these new cells, a change due solely to the addition of effector memory CD8 T cells. This increase did not affect the number of CD4 T cells, B cells or naive CD8 T cells, and pre-existing memory CD8 T cells specific for a previously encountered infection were largely preserved. Thus, the number of effector memory CD8 T cells in the mammalian host adapts according to immunological experience. Developing vaccines that abundantly introduce new memory CD8 T cells should not necessarily ablate pre-existing immunity to other infections.
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Acknowledgements We thank S. Jameson, E. J. Wherry and A. Haase for critical discussions and reading of the manuscript, and J. W. Yewdell for recombinant vaccinia virus. This research was supported by start-up funds from the University of Minnesota Medical School (V.V. and D.M.) and NIH grant AI30048 (R. Ahmed).