Correlation of Regulatory T Cell Numbers with Disease Tolerance upon Virus Infection

Jessica B. Graham, Jessica L. Swarts, Kristina R. Edwards, Kathleen M. Voss, Richard Green, Sophia Jeng, Darla R. Miller, Michael A. Mooney, Shannon K. McWeeney, Martin T. Ferris, Fernando Pardo Manuel de Villena, Michael Gale, Jennifer M. Lund

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The goal of a successful immune response is to clear the pathogen while sparing host tissues from damage associated with pathogen replication and active immunity. Regulatory T cells (Treg) have been implicated in maintaining this balance as they contribute both to the organization of immune responses as well as restriction of inflammation and immune activation to limit immunopathology. To determine if Treg abundance prior to pathogen encounter can be used to predict the success of an antiviral immune response, we used genetically diverse mice from the collaborative cross infected with West Nile virus (WNV). We identified collaborative cross lines with extreme Treg abundance at steady state, either high or low, and used mice with these extreme phenotypes to demonstrate that baseline Treg quantity predicted the magnitude of the CD8 T cell response to WNV infection, although higher numbers of baseline Tregs were associated with reduced CD8 T cell functionality in terms of TNF and granzyme B expression. Finally, we found that abundance of CD44+ Tregs in the spleen at steady state was correlated with an increased early viral load within the spleen without an association with clinical disease. Thus, we propose that Tregs participate in disease tolerance in the context of WNV infection by tuning an appropriately focused and balanced immune response to control the virus while at the same time minimizing immunopathology and clinical disease. We hypothesize that Tregs limit the antiviral CD8 T cell function to curb immunopathology at the expense of early viral control as an overall host survival strategy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)157-169
Number of pages13
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)
  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


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