Interferon gamma (IFN-γ) negative CD4+ and CD8+ T-cells can produce immune mediators in response to viral antigens
Evaluation of antigen-specific T-cell responses to viral antigens is frequently performed on IFN-γ secreting cells. However, T-cells are capable of producing many more functions than just IFN-γ, some of which, like Perforin, are associated with immune protection in HIV-1 disease elite controllers. We evaluated the extent of missed T-cell functions when IFN-γ secretion is used as a surrogate marker for further evaluation of T-cell functions. Intracellular cytokine staining assay and flow cytometry were used to assess peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from 31 HIV-infected ART-naive individuals for the extent to which gated CD4+ and CD8+ IFN-γ producing and non-producing T-cells also secreted IL-2, Perforin, and TNF-α functions. Similarly, the extent of missed virus-specific responses in IFN-γ ELISpot assay negative T-cells from 5 HIV-1 uninfected individuals was evaluated. Cells from HIV-infected individuals were stimulated with pooled consensus group M (Con M) peptides; and those from healthy individuals were stimulated with pooled adenovirus (Ad) peptides. Overall, frequencies of virus-specific IFN-γ secreting CD4+ and CD8+ cells were low. Proportions of IFN-γ negative CD4+ expressing IL-2, Perforin, or TNF-α to Con M were significantly higher (5 of 7 functional profiles) than the corresponding IFN-γ positive CD4+ (0 of 7) T-cell phenotype, p = 0.02; Fisher's Exact test. Likewise, proportions of CD8+ T-cells expressing other functions were significantly higher in 4 of the 7 IFN-γ negative CD8+ T-cells. Notably, newly stimulated Perforin, identified as Perforin co-expression with IL-2 or TNF-α, was significantly higher in IFN-γ negative CD8+ T-cell than in the positive CD8+ T-cells. Using SEB, lower responses in IFN-γ positive cells were most associated with CD4+ than CD8+ T-cells. These findings suggest that studies evaluating immunogenicity in response to HIV and Adenovirus viral antigens should not only evaluate T-cell responsiveness among IFN-γ producing cells but also among those T-cells that do not express IFN-γ.