The transcription factor T-bet regulates the production of interferon-gamma and cytotoxic molecules in effector CD8 T cells, and its expression correlates with improved control of chronic viral infections. However, the role of T-bet in infections with differential outcome remains poorly defined. Here, we report that high expression of T-bet in virus-specific CD8 T cells during acute hepatitis B virus (HBV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection was associated with spontaneous resolution, whereas T-bet deficiency was more characteristic of chronic evolving infection. T-bet strongly correlated with interferon-gamma production and proliferation of virus-specific CD8 T cells, and its induction by antigen and IL-2 stimulation partially restored functionality in previously dysfunctional T-bet-deficient CD8 T cells. However, restoration of a strong interferon-gamma response required additional stimulation with IL-12, which selectively induced the phosphorylation of STAT4 in T-bet(+) CD8 T cells. The observation that T-bet expression rendered CD8 T cells responsive to IL-12 suggests a stepwise mechanism of T cell activation in which T-bet facilitates the recruitment of additional transcription factors in the presence of key cytokines. These findings support a critical role of T-bet for viral clearance and suggest T-bet deficiency as an important mechanism behind chronic infection.
- RECOMBINANT HUMAN INTERLEUKIN-12
- TRANSCRIPTION FACTOR
- VIRAL CLEARANCE
- PHASE I/II