The presence, at the time of challenge, of antiviral effector T cells in the vaginal mucosa of female rhesus macaques immunized with live-attenuated simian-human immunodeficiency virus 89.6 (SHIV89.6) is associated with consistent and reproducible protection from pathogenic simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) vaginal challenge (18). Here, we definitively demonstrate the protective role of the SIV-specific CD8+ T-cell response in SHIV-immunized monkeys by CD8+ lymphocyte depletion, an intervention that abrogated SHIV-mediated control of challenge virus replication and largely eliminated the SIV-specific T-cell responses in blood, lymph nodes, and genital mucosa. While in the T-cell-intact SHIV-immunized animals, polyfunctional and degranulating SIV-specific CD8+ T cells were present in the genital tract and lymphoid tissues from the day of challenge until day 14 postchallenge, strikingly, expansion of SIV-specific CD8+ T cells in the immunized monkeys was minimal and limited to the vagina. Thus, protection from uncontrolled SIV replication in animals immunized with attenuated SHIV89.6 is primarily mediated by CD8+ T cells that do not undergo dramatic systemic expansion after SIV challenge. These findings demonstrate that despite, and perhaps because of, minimal systemic expansion of T cells at the time of challenge, a stable population of effector-cytotoxic CD8+ T cells can provide significant protection from vaginal SIV challenge.
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