Recombinant vaccinia virus-induced T-cell immunity: Quantitation of the response to the virus vector and the foreign epitope

Academic Article


  • Recombinant vaccinia viruses (rVV) have been extensively used as vaccines, but there is little information about the total magnitude of the VV-specific T-cell response and how this compares to the immune response to the foreign gene(s) expressed by the rVV. To address this issue, we quantitated the T-cell responses to both the viral vector and the insert following the infection of mice with VV expressing a cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) epitope (NP118-126) from lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV). The LCMV epitope-specific response was quantitated by intracellular cytokine staining after stimulation with the specific peptide. To analyze the total W-specific response, we developed a simple intracellular cytokine staining assay using VV-infected major histocompatibility complex class I and II matched cells as stimulators. Using this approach, we made the following determinations. (i) VV-NP118 induced potent and long-lasting CD8 and CD4 T-cell responses to the vector; at the peak of the response (∼ 1 week), there were ∼ 107 VV-specific CD8 T cells (25% of the CD8 T cells) and ∼106 VV-specific CD4 T cells (∼5% of the CD4 T cells) in the spleen. These numbers decreased to ∼5 x 105 CD8 T cells (∼5% frequency) and ∼105 CD4 T cells (∼0.5% frequency), respectively, by day 30 and were then stably maintained at these levels for >300 days. The size of this VV-specific T-cell response was comparable to that of the T-cell response induced following an acute LCMV infection. (ii) VV-specific CD8 and CD4 T cells were capable of producing gamma interferon (IFN-γ), tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α), and interleukin-2; all cells were able to make IFN-γ, a subset produced both IFN-γ and TNF-α, and another subset produced all three cytokines. (iii) The CD8 T-cell response to the foreign gene (LCMV NP118-126 epitope) was coordinately regulated with the response to the vector during all three phases (expansion, contraction, and memory) of the T-cell response. The total number of CD8 T cells responding to NP118-126 were ∼20- to 30-fold lower than the number responding to the VV vector (∼1% at the peak and 0.2% in memory). This study provides a better understanding of T-cell immunity induced by VV-based vaccines, and in addition, the technique described in the study can be readily extended to other viral vectors to determine the ratio of the T-cell response to the insert versus the vector. This information will be useful in optimizing prime-boost regimens for vaccination.
  • Published In

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Harrington LE; Van der Most R; Whitton JL; Ahmed R
  • Start Page

  • 3329
  • End Page

  • 3337
  • Volume

  • 76
  • Issue

  • 7