Patients surviving acute stages of sepsis often display impaired adaptive-immune responses. Using the cecal ligation and puncture model, we demonstrated that sepsis leads to substantial and long-lasting changes in the naive CD8 T cell repertoire, affecting the capacity of the host to respond to new infections. However, the identity of CD8 T cell-extrinsic factor(s) and mechanism(s) that contribute to impaired CD8 T cell responses after sepsis is unknown. Priming of naive CD8 T cells is critically dependent on the ability of dendritic cells (DCs) to provide Ag, costimulation, and inflammatory signal 3 cytokines; therefore, the sepsis-induced changes in the DC compartment might represent a contributing factor leading to diminished CD8 T cell immunity in septic hosts. In a direct test of this hypothesis, we show that, in addition to numerical decline, sepsis leads to functional impairments in DCs, diminishing their capacity to produce cytokines upon TLR stimulation in vitro or postinfection in vivo. Importantly, we demonstrated a direct link between DC dysfunction and impairments in CD8 T cell immunity after sepsis by directly targeting Ag to DCs. Finally, postsepsis Flt3 ligand treatment increased the number of DCs and improved DC function, including the ability to sense inflammation and produce IL-12, leading to improved primary CD8 T cell responses to newly encountered Ags. Thus, sepsisinduced numerical and functional loss of DCs contributes to the observed defects in CD8 T cell immunity, and therapeutic approaches designed to improve the status of the DC compartment after sepsis might facilitate the recovery of CD8 T cell immunity.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by National Institutes of Health Grants GM113961, AI119160, AI114543 (to V.P.B.), GM115462 (to T.S.G.), and T32AI997313 (to D.I.K.) and by a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Merit Review Award (to T.S.G.).