CD8+ T cells play a key role in clearing primary virus infections and in protecting against subsequent challenge. The potent antiviral effects of these cells make them important components of vaccine-induced immunity and, because of this, peptide vaccines often contain epitopes designed to induce strong CD8+ T cell responses. However, the same effector functions that protect the host also can be harmful if they are not tightly regulated, and virus-specific CD8+ T cells are a frequent cause of immunopathology. Here, we report that the administration of peptide to virus-immune recipient mice can lead to the synchronous activation of preexisting virus-specific CD8+ T cells with serious, and even lethal, consequences. Mice infected with LCMV or vaccinia virus developed rapid and profound hypothermia following injection of cognate synthetic peptides, and LCMV-infected mice frequently died within hours. Detailed analyses of the LCMV infected mice revealed enterocyte apoptosis and implicated TNF produced by peptide-specific CD8+ T cells as the major mediator of disease. The caspase inhibitor zVADfmk had no demonstrable effect on the development of hypothermia, but diminished enterocyte apoptosis and greatly reduced the number of deaths. These findings, if similarly observed in patients, counsel caution when administering powerful immunogens such as peptide vaccines to individuals who may have a large preexisting pool of epitope-specific CD8+ T cells.
Fei Liu, Ralph Feuer, Daniel E. Hassett, J. Lindsay Whitton