Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2019

Access Restrictions

Access restricted until 07/29/2020

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Varga, Steven M

First Committee Member

Badovinac, Vladimir P

Second Committee Member

Houtman, Jon C

Third Committee Member

Legge, Kevin L

Fourth Committee Member

Petersen, Christine A


Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is the leading cause of lower respiratory tract infection and hospitalization in infants and young children, but no vaccine is currently available. CD4 and CD8 T cells are critical for mediating viral clearance but also contribute to immunopathology following an acute RSV infection. However, few RSV-derived CD4 and CD8 T cell epitopes in the commonly used C57BL/6 mouse strain have been described. I utilized an overlapping peptide library spanning the entire RSV proteome and intracellular cytokine staining for interferon-gamma (IFN-γ) to identify novel CD4 and CD8 T cell epitopes in C57BL/6 mice. I discovered and characterized two novel CD4 T cell epitopes and three novel CD8 T cell epitopes located within multiple RSV proteins. Overall, the novel RSV-derived CD4 and CD8 T cell epitopes identified in C57BL/6 mice will aid in future studies of RSV-specific T cell responses.

While CD8 T cells are important for viral clearance following an acute RSV infection, the contribution of memory CD8 T cells in providing protection against reinfection with RSV remains unclear. I used a prime-boost immunization approach to induce robust, systemic memory CD8 T cell responses in the absence of RSV-specific CD4 T cells and antibodies. I determined that high magnitude, systemic memory CD8 T cell responses efficiently reduced lung viral titers following RSV infection, but unexpectedly did so at the expense of severe and fatal immunopathology. The exacerbated disease was mediated by the rapid and excessive production of IFN-γ by memory CD8 T cells in the lung and airways. In contrast, I found that local immunization generated a large population of tissue-resident memory CD8 T cells in the lung that efficiently reduced lung viral titers in the absence of exacerbated disease. Additionally, I observed that pre-existing RSV-specific neutralizing antibodies prevented the immunopathology induced by high magnitude, systemic memory CD8 T cell responses following RSV infection. Prophylactic treatment with neutralizing antibodies against RSV efficiently restricted early virus replication, which resulted in a significant decrease in lung IFN-γ levels, memory CD8 T cell activation, and the frequency of IFN-γ producing CD8 T cells. Thus, my results demonstrate that high magnitude, systemic memory CD8 T cells induce lethal immunopathology following RSV infection, which can be prevented by pre-existing RSV-specific neutralizing antibodies. Overall, my results have important implications for the development of future RSV vaccines.

The development of a live-attenuated vaccine for RSV has been prevented by the inability to properly balance attenuation with immunogenicity and efficacy. Recently, a recombinant RSV strain lacking the gene that encodes the matrix (M) protein (RSV M-null) was developed. As the M protein is required for virion assembly following infection of a host cell, RSV M-null induces a single-cycle infection. I evaluated RSV M-null as a potential live-attenuated vaccine candidate by determining its pathogenicity, immunogenicity, and protective capacity in BALB/c mice compared to its recombinant wild-type control virus (RSV recWT). RSV M-null was sufficiently attenuated, as significantly reduced lung viral titers, weight loss, and pulmonary dysfunction were observed compared to mice infected with RSV recWT. Surprisingly, despite its attenuation, I found that RSV M-null infection induced effector T cell, germinal center B cell, serum antibody, and memory T cell responses of similar magnitude to that elicited by infection with RSV recWT. Importantly, RSV M-null immunization provided protection against secondary viral challenge by reducing lung viral titers as efficiently as immunization with RSV recWT. Overall, my results indicate that RSV M-null combines attenuation with high immunogenicity and efficacy and represents a promising novel live-attenuated RSV vaccine candidate.


Lung, Memory CD8 T cell, Respiratory syncytial virus, T cell, Vaccine


xvi, 229 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 205-229).


Copyright © 2019 Megan Elizabeth Schmidt