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GITR intrinsically sustains early type 1 and late follicular helper CD4 T cell accumulation to control a chronic viral infection

Clouthier, DL;Zhou, AC;Wortzman, ME;Luft, O;Levy, GA;Watts, TH;

CD4 T cells are critical for control of persistent infections; however, the key signals that regulate CD4 T help during chronic infection remain incompletely defined. While several studies have addressed the role of inhibitory receptors and soluble factors such as PD-1 and IL-10, significantly less work has addressed the role of T cell co-stimulatory molecules during chronic viral infection. Here we show that during a persistent infection with lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) clone 13, mice lacking the glucocorticoid-induced tumor necrosis factor receptor related protein (GITR) exhibit defective CD8 T cell accumulation, increased T cell exhaustion and impaired viral control. Differences in CD8 T cells and viral control between GITR+/+ and GITR-/- mice were lost when CD4 T cells were depleted. Moreover, mixed bone marrow chimeric mice, as well as transfer of LCMV epitope-specific CD4 or CD8 T cells, demonstrated that these effects of GITR are largely CD4 T cell-intrinsic. GITR is dispensable for initial CD4 T cell proliferation and differentiation, but supports the post-priming accumulation of IFN+IL-2+ Th1 cells, facilitating CD8 T cell expansion and early viral control. GITR-dependent phosphorylation of the p65 subunit of NF-B as well as phosphorylation of the downstream mTORC1 target, S6 ribosomal protein, were detected at day three post-infection (p.i.), and defects in CD4 T cell accumulation in GITR-deficient T cells were apparent starting at day five p.i. Consistently, we pinpoint IL-2-dependent CD4 T cell help for CD8 T cells to between days four and eight p.i. GITR also increases the ratio of T follicular helper to T follicular regulatory cells and thereby enhances LCMV-specific IgG production. Together, these findings identify a CD4 T cell-intrinsic role for GITR in sustaining early CD8 and late humoral responses to collectively promote control of chronic LCMV clone 13 infection.