Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2010

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Griffith, Thomas S

First Committee Member

Legge, Kevin L

Second Committee Member

Colgan, John

Third Committee Member

Harty, John T

Fourth Committee Member

Klingelhutz, Aloysius J


The increasing threat of epidemic and pandemic influenza underscore the need to better-understand the immune response to influenza virus infections and to better understand the factors that contribute to the clearance of virus without complications of immunopathology. A hallmark of the adaptive immune response to primary influenza virus infections is the induction of influenza-specific CD8+ T cell responses. These T cells target and kill influenza-infected epithelial cells in the airway, thereby clearing the virus and allowing recovery of the infected host.

Recent reports demonstrated that CD8+ T cells express TNF-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL) after influenza virus infection. While roles for perforin/granzyme and Fas:FasL interactions in clearing influenza virus infections had been established, little was known about the role of TRAIL in the CD8+ T cell responses to influenza virus infection. We hypothesized that influenza-specific CD8+ T cells would express TRAIL after influenza infection and could utilize TRAIL to induce the apoptosis of virally-infected cells. We discovered that CD8+ T cells do express TRAIL after influenza infection, and that this expression occurs in an influenza-specific fashion. Further, we demonstrated that these influenza-specific CD8+ T cells utilize this TRAIL to kill virally infected cells and protect the host from death, while T cells lacking TRAIL were unable to kill targets as efficiently and provided reduced protection. These data supported our hypothesis that CD8+ T cells utilize TRAIL to kill infected cells.

Unexpectedly, when we increased the initial viral inoculum, the pulmonary cytotoxicity of T cells in TRAIL-/- mice was increased compared to those in TRAIL+/+ mice. Investigation of this phenomenon revealed that changes in cytotoxicity correlated not with changes in effector molecule expression on the T cells, but with increased recruitment of T cells to the lung. T cell recruitment to the lungs of TRAIL-/- mice was dependent on CCR5 and CXCR3, and likely the result of aberrant expression of MIG and MIP-1α in the lungs. Together, these data suggest that TRAIL expression contributes not only to T cell cytotoxicity, but also to the regulation of chemokine expression and associated cell recruitment after influenza virus infections.

To confirm the relevance of our animal model to the study of human disease, we examined the potential role for TRAIL in the human immune response to infection. We determined that in vitro influenza infection stimulates upregulation of functional TRAIL on the surface of CD3+, CD14+, CD19+, and CD56+ PBMC populations. This expression was not caused by infection of the cells, but by interferon produced as a result of the infection. Infected (TRAIL-expressing) PBMCs killed influenza-infected lung epithelial cells, revealing that influenza infection sensitizes epithelial cells to TRAIL-induced apoptosis. Surprisingly, blocking TRAIL signaling, but not FasL signaling, was able to abrogate this killing of infected epithelial cells. Together, these data support a role for TRAIL in the human immune response to influenza virus infections.

Considered as a whole, the data from these studies suggest an additional, previously-unappreciated mechanism by which CD8+ T cells can kill virally infected cells, TRAIL. They also suggest additional, previously-unappreciated roles for TRAIL in immune responses: in helping clear virally infected cells after infections and in helping control cytokine/chemokine expression, and thus the immune response, after virus infection.


CD8 T cell, immunity, influenza, TRAIL


xii, 177 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 156-177).


Copyright 2010 Erik L Brincks