Protein energy malnutrition impairs homeostatic proliferation of memory CD8 T cells

Smita Iyer, Janel Hart Chatraw, Wendy G. Tan, E. John Wherry, Todd C. Becker, Rafi Ahmed, Zoher F. Kapasi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Nutrition is a critical but poorly understood determinant of immunity. There is abundant epidemiological evidence linking protein malnutrition to impaired vaccine efficacy and increased susceptibility to infections; yet, the role of dietary protein in immune memory homeostasis remains poorly understood. In this study, we show that protein-energy malnutrition induced in mice by low-protein (LP) feeding has a detrimental impact on CD8 memory. Relative to adequate protein (AP)-fed controls, LP feeding in lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV)-immune mice resulted in a 2-fold decrease in LCMV-specific CD8 memory T cells. Adoptive transfer of memory cells, labeled with a division tracking dye, from AP mice into naive LP or AP mice demonstrated that protein-energy malnutrition caused profound defects in homeostatic proliferation. Remarkably, this defect occurred despite the lymphopenic environment in LP hosts. Whereas Ag-specific memory cells in LP and AP hosts were phenotypically similar, memory cells in LP hosts were markedly less responsive to polyinosinic-polycytidylic acid-induced acute proliferative signals. Furthermore, upon recall, memory cells in LP hosts displayed reduced proliferation and protection from challenge with LCMV-clone 13, resulting in impaired viral clearance in the liver. The findings show a metabolic requirement of dietary protein in sustaining functional CD8 memory and suggest that interventions to optimize dietary protein intake may improve vaccine efficacy in malnourished individuals.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)77-84
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Immunology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2012
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology


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