Memory CD8 T cells mediate rapid and effective immune responses against previously encountered Ags. However, these cells display considerable phenotypic and functional heterogeneity. In an effort to identify parameters that correlate with immune protection, we compared cell surface markers, proliferation, and cytokine production of distinct virus- and tumor-specific human CD8 populations. Phenotypic analysis of epitope-specific CD8 T cells showed that Ag specificity is associated with distinct CCR7/CD45RA expression profiles, suggesting that Ag recognition drives the expression of these molecules on effector/memory T cells. Moreover, the majority of central memory T cells (CD45RA(low)CCR7(dull)) secreting cytokines in response to an EBV epitope produces both IL-2 and IFN-gamma, whereas effector memory CD8 cells (CD45RA(dull)CCR7(-)) found in EBV, CMV, or Melan-A memory pools are mostly composed of cells secreting exclusively IFN-gamma. However, these various subsets, including Melan-A-specific effector memory cells differentiated in cancer patients, display similar Ag-driven proliferation in vitro. Our findings show for the first time that human epitope-specific CD8 memory pools differ in IL-2 production after antigenic stimulation, although they display similar intrinsic proliferation capacity. These results provide new insights in the characterization of human virus- and tumor-specific CD8 lymphocytes.
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