Dr Chris Willberg
|Technology Exchange:||Cell sorting, Cellular immunology, Flow cytometry and Immunohistochemistry|
|Scientific Themes:||Immunology & Infectious Disease|
|Keywords:||T cells, Innate, Inflammation and Flow Cytometry|
I lead a number of projects within Prof. Paul Klenerman’s group, as well as run the Flow Cytometry unit within the Peter Medawar Building.
My research interests fall into three distinct areas:
Firstly, with Prof. Paul Klenerman, we are interested in the activation and regulation of mucosal associated invariant T cells (MAIT cells). MAIT cells represent the most abundant innate-like T cell population within the human body. They play a particularly important role in our fight against bacterial infections. However, they have also been associated with a number of inflammatory disease settings, including multiple sclerosis and psoriasis. Thus, these cells have the potential to play important roles in both maintaining health, but also in promoting inflammation and subsequent pathology.
Secondly, I am interested in the control and regulation of the germinal centre reaction. The germinal centre is a dynamic microanatomical structure within which B cells compete for antigen presented on follicular dendritic cells. This competition results in the selection of B cells that produce high affinity antibodies, which is crucial from the development of a robust B cell response.
Finally, in line with my role as flow cytometry manager, we are continuously looking to develop and utilise novel cytometry techniques and applications. These include multi-parametric cytotoxicity assays and proliferation assays.
|Professor Paul Klenerman||Experimental Medicine Division||University of Oxford||United Kingdom|
|Professor Anna Katharina (Katja) A Simon||Experimental Medicine Division||University of Oxford||United Kingdom|
|Professor Ellie (Eleanor) Barnes||Experimental Medicine Division||University of Oxford||United Kingdom|
|Emeritus Professor Helen Chapel||Experimental Medicine Division||University of Oxford||United Kingdom|
|Dr Teresa Marafioti||UCL||United Kingdom|
The C-type lectin CD161 is expressed by a large proportion of human T lymphocytes of all lineages, including a population known as mucosal-associated invariant T (MAIT) cells. To understand whether different T cell subsets expressing CD161 have similar properties, we examined these populations in parallel using mass cytometry and mRNA microarray approaches. The analysis identified a conserved CD161++/MAIT cell transcriptional signature enriched in CD161+CD8+ T cells, which can be extended to CD161+ CD4+ and CD161+TCRγδ+ T cells. Furthermore, this led to the identification of a shared innate-like, TCR-independent response to interleukin (IL)-12 plus IL-18 by different CD161-expressing T cell populations. This response was independent of regulation by CD161, which acted as a costimulatory molecule in the context of T cell receptor stimulation. Expression of CD161 hence identifies a transcriptional and functional phenotype, shared across human T lymphocytes and independent of both T cell receptor (TCR) expression and cell lineage. Hide abstract
Mucosal-associated invariant T (MAIT) cells are an innate-like T-cell population restricted by the non-polymorphic, major histocompatibility complex class I-related protein 1, MR1. MAIT cells are activated by a broad range of bacteria through detection of riboflavin metabolites bound by MR1, but their direct cytolytic capacity upon recognition of cognate target cells remains unclear. We show that resting human MAIT cells are uniquely characterized by a lack of granzyme (Gr) B and low perforin expression, key granule proteins required for efficient cytotoxic activity, but high levels of expression of GrA and GrK. Bacterial activation of MAIT cells rapidly induced GrB and perforin, licensing these cells to kill their cognate target cells. Using a novel flow cytometry-based killing assay, we show that licensed MAIT cells, but not ex vivo MAIT cells from the same donors, can efficiently kill Escherichia coli-exposed B-cell lines in an MR1- and degranulation-dependent manner. Finally, we show that MAIT cells are highly proliferative in response to antigenic and cytokine stimulation, maintaining high expression of GrB, perforin, and GrA, but reduced expression of GrK following antigenic proliferation. The tightly regulated cytolytic capacity of MAIT cells may have an important role in the control of intracellular bacterial infections, such as Mycobacterium tuberculosis. Hide abstract
The ability of innate immune cells to sense and respond to impending danger varies by anatomical location. The liver is considered tolerogenic but is still capable of mounting a successful immune response to clear various infections. To understand whether hepatic immune cells tune their response to different infectious challenges, we probed mononuclear cells purified from human healthy and diseased livers with distinct pathogen-associated molecules. We discovered that only the TLR8 agonist ssRNA40 selectively activated liver-resident innate immune cells to produce substantial quantities of IFN-γ. We identified CD161(Bright) mucosal-associated invariant T (MAIT) and CD56(Bright) NK cells as the responding liver-resident innate immune cells. Their activation was not directly induced by the TLR8 agonist but was dependent on IL-12 and IL-18 production by ssRNA40-activated intrahepatic monocytes. Importantly, the ssRNA40-induced cytokine-dependent activation of MAIT cells mirrored responses induced by bacteria, i.e., generating a selective production of high levels of IFN-γ, without the concomitant production of TNF-α or IL-17A. The intrahepatic IFN-γ production could be detected not only in healthy livers, but also in HBV- or HCV-infected livers. In conclusion, the human liver harbors a network of immune cells able to modulate their immunological responses to different pathogen-associated molecules. Their ability to generate a strong production of IFN-γ upon stimulation with TLR8 agonist opens new therapeutic opportunities for the treatment of diverse liver pathologies. Hide abstract
Mucosal-associated invariant T (MAIT) cells are an innate-like T-cell population involved in anti-bacterial immunity. In human beings, MAIT cells are abundant, comprising ~10% of the CD8(+) T-cell compartment in blood. They are enriched at mucosal sites and are particularly prevalent within the liver. MAIT cells are defined by the expression of a semi-invariant T-cell receptor (Vα7.2-Jα33/12/20) and are restricted by the non-polymorphic, highly evolutionarily conserved MHC class Ib molecule, MHC-related protein (MR)1. MR1 has recently been shown to present an unstable pyrimidine intermediate derived from a biosynthetic precursor of riboflavin; riboflavin biosynthesis occurs in many bacteria but not in human beings. Consistent with this, MAIT cells are responsive to riboflavin-metabolizing bacteria, including Salmonella. In mouse models, MAIT cells have been shown to play a non-redundant role in anti-bacterial immunity, including against Escherichia coli, Klebsiella pneumoniae, and Mycobacterium bovis BCG. In human beings, MAIT cells are decreased in frequency in the blood of patients with tuberculosis or pneumonia, and their frequency has been inversely correlated with the risk of subsequent systemic bacterial infection in patients in intensive care. Intriguingly, MAIT cells are also depleted from the blood early in HIV infection and fail to recover with anti-retroviral therapy, which may contribute to the susceptibility of patients infected with HIV to certain bacterial infections, including non-typhoidal Salmonella. In this review, we will discuss what is currently known about MAIT cells, the role that Salmonella has played in elucidating MAIT cell restriction and function, and the role MAIT cells might play in the control of Salmonella infection. Hide abstract
CD161(++) CD8(+) T cells represent a novel subset that is dominated in adult peripheral blood by mucosal-associated invariant T (MAIT) cells, as defined by the expression of a variable-α chain 7.2 (Vα7.2)-Jα33 TCR, and IL-18Rα. Stimulation with IL-18+IL-12 is known to induce IFN-γ by both NK cells and, to a more limited extent, T cells. Here, we show the CD161(++) CD8(+) T-cell population is the primary T-cell population triggered by this mechanism. Both CD161(++) Vα7.2(+) and CD161(++) Vα7.2(-) T-cell subsets responded to IL-12+IL-18 stimulation, demonstrating this response was not restricted to the MAIT cells, but to the CD161(++) phenotype. Bacteria and TLR agonists also indirectly triggered IFN-γ expression via IL-12 and IL-18. These data show that CD161(++) T cells are the predominant T-cell population that responds directly to IL-12+IL-18 stimulation. Furthermore, our findings broaden the potential role of MAIT cells beyond bacterial responsiveness to potentially include viral infections and other inflammatory stimuli. Hide abstract
Currently, no vaccine exists for hepatitis C virus (HCV), a major pathogen thought to infect 170 million people globally. Many studies suggest that host T cell responses are critical for spontaneous resolution of disease, and preclinical studies have indicated a requirement for T cells in protection against challenge. We aimed to elicit HCV-specific T cells with the potential for protection using a recombinant adenoviral vector strategy in a phase 1 study of healthy human volunteers. Two adenoviral vectors expressing NS proteins from HCV genotype 1B were constructed based on rare serotypes [human adenovirus 6 (Ad6) and chimpanzee adenovirus 3 (ChAd3)]. Both vectors primed T cell responses against HCV proteins; these T cell responses targeted multiple proteins and were capable of recognizing heterologous strains (genotypes 1A and 3A). HCV-specific T cells consisted of both CD4+ and CD8+ T cell subsets; secreted interleukin-2, interferon-γ, and tumor necrosis factor-α; and could be sustained for at least a year after boosting with the heterologous adenoviral vector. Studies using major histocompatibility complex peptide tetramers revealed long-lived central and effector memory pools that retained polyfunctionality and proliferative capacity. These data indicate that an adenoviral vector strategy can induce sustained T cell responses of a magnitude and quality associated with protective immunity and open the way for studies of prophylactic and therapeutic vaccines for HCV. Hide abstract
BACKGROUND: HIV-1 vertically infected children in the USA are living into adolescence and beyond with the widespread use of antiretroviral drugs. These patients exhibit striking differences in the rate of HIV-1 disease progression which could provide insights into mechanisms of control. We hypothesized that differences in the pattern of immunodomination including breadth, magnitude and polyfunctionality of HIV-1 specific CD8+ T cell response could partially explain differences in progression rate. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: In this study, we mapped, quantified, and assessed the functionality of these responses against individual HIV-1 Gag peptides in 58 HIV-1 vertically infected adolescents. Subjects were divided into two groups depending upon the rate of disease progression: adolescents with a sustained CD4%≥25 were categorized as having no immune suppression (NS), and those with CD4%≤15 categorized as having severe immune suppression (SS). We observed differences in the area of HIV-1-Gag to which the two groups made responses. In addition, subjects who expressed the HLA- B*57 or B*42 alleles were highly likely to restrict their immunodominant response through these alleles. There was a significantly higher frequency of naïve CD8+ T cells in the NS subjects (p = 0.0066) compared to the SS subjects. In contrast, there were no statistically significant differences in any other CD8+ T cell subsets. The differentiation profiles and multifunctionality of Gag-specific CD8+ T cells, regardless of immunodominance, also failed to demonstrate meaningful differences between the two groups. CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: Together, these data suggest that, at least in vertically infected adolescents, the region of HIV-1-Gag targeted by CD8+ T cells and the magnitude of that response relative to other responses may have more importance on the rate of disease progression than their qualitative effector functions. Hide abstract
The development of the fluorescently labeled tetrameric MHC-peptide complex has enabled the direct visualization, quantification and phenotypic characterization of antigen-specific T cells using flow cytometry and has transformed our understanding of cellular immune responses. The combination of this technology with functional assays provides many new insights into these cells, allowing investigation into their lifecycle, manner of death and effector function. In this article, we hope to provide an overview of the techniques used in the construction of these tetramers, the problems and solutions associated with them, and the methods used in the study of antigen-specific T cells. Understanding how the antigen-specific cells develop and function in different circumstances and with different pathogens will be key to understanding natural host defense, as well as vaccine design and assessment. Hide abstract
CD8(+) T lymphocytes play a key role in host defense, in particular against important persistent viruses, although the critical functional properties of such cells in tissue are not fully defined. We have previously observed that CD8(+) T cells specific for tissue-localized viruses such as hepatitis C virus express high levels of the C-type lectin CD161. To explore the significance of this, we examined CD8(+)CD161(+) T cells in healthy donors and those with hepatitis C virus and defined a population of CD8(+) T cells with distinct homing and functional properties. These cells express high levels of CD161 and a pattern of molecules consistent with type 17 differentiation, including cytokines (e.g., IL-17, IL-22), transcription factors (e.g., retinoic acid-related orphan receptor gamma-t, P = 6 x 10(-9); RUNX2, P = 0.004), cytokine receptors (e.g., IL-23R, P = 2 x 10(-7); IL-18 receptor, P = 4 x 10(-6)), and chemokine receptors (e.g., CCR6, P = 3 x 10(-8); CXCR6, P = 3 x 10(-7); CCR2, P = 4 x 10(-7)). CD161(+)CD8(+) T cells were markedly enriched in tissue samples and coexpressed IL-17 with high levels of IFN-gamma and/or IL-22. The levels of polyfunctional cells in tissue was most marked in those with mild disease (P = 0.0006). These data define a T cell lineage that is present already in cord blood and represents as many as one in six circulating CD8(+) T cells in normal humans and a substantial fraction of tissue-infiltrating CD8(+) T cells in chronic inflammation. Such cells play a role in the pathogenesis of chronic hepatitis and arthritis and potentially in other infectious and inflammatory diseases of man. Hide abstract
BACKGROUND: The HLA-B*35-Px allele has been associated with rapid disease progression in HIV-1 infection, in contrast to the HLA-B*35-Py allele. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: Immune responses to two HLA-B*35 restricted HIV-1 specific CTL epitopes and their variants were followed longitudinally during early HIV-1 infection in 16 HLA-B*35+ individuals. Subjects expressing HLA-B*35-Px alleles showed no difference in response to the consensus epitopes compared to individuals with HLA-B*35-Py alleles. Surprisingly, all the HLA-B*35-Px+ individuals responded to epitope-variants even in the absence of a consensus response. Sequencing of the viral population revealed no evidence of variant virus in any of the individuals. CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: This demonstrates a novel phenomenon that distinguishes individuals with the HLA-B*35-Px rapid progressing allele and those with the HLA-B*35-Py slower progressing allele. Hide abstract
HIV MEDICINE, 10 pp. 5-5.2009. The role of the gut mucosa in protection from HIV-1 in highly exposed persistently seronegative individuals (HEPS)
We measured CD8(+) T-cell responses in 12 potentially exposed but uninfected men who have sex with men by using cytokine flow cytometry. Four of the individuals screened exhibited polyfunctional immune responses to human immunodeficiency virus type 1 Gag or Vif. The minimum cytotoxic T lymphocyte epitope was mapped in one Gag responder. Hide abstract
Unprotected sexual intercourse between individuals who are both infected with HIV-1 can lead to exposure to their partner's virus, and potentially to super-infection. However, the immunological consequences of continued exposure to HIV-1 by individuals already infected, has to our knowledge never been reported. We measured T cell responses in 49 HIV-1 infected individuals who were on antiretroviral therapy with suppressed viral loads. All the individuals were in a long-term sexual partnership with another HIV-1 infected individual, who was either also on HAART and suppressing their viral loads, or viremic (>9000 copies/ml). T cell responses to HIV-1 epitopes were measured directly ex-vivo by the IFN-gamma enzyme linked immuno-spot assay and by cytokine flow cytometry. Sexual exposure data was generated from questionnaires given to both individuals within each partnership. Individuals who continued to have regular sexual contact with a HIV-1 infected viremic partner had significantly higher frequencies of HIV-1-specific T cell responses, compared to individuals with aviremic partners. Strikingly, the magnitude of the HIV-1-specific T cell response correlated strongly with the level and route of exposure. Responses consisted of both CD4(+) and CD8(+) T cell subsets. Longitudinally, decreases in exposure were mirrored by a lower T cell response. However, no evidence for systemic super-infection was found in any of the individuals. Continued sexual exposure to exogenous HIV-1 was associated with increased HIV-1-specific T cell responses, in the absence of systemic super-infection, and correlated with the level and type of exposure. Hide abstract
CD4(+) T-cell responses are important for the outcome of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. However, the functional status of HCV-specific CD4(+) T cells in persistent infection is poorly understood. It is generally recognized that proliferative capacity of HCV-specific CD4(+) T cells is weak or absent in persistent infection, but whether this results from deletion of antigen-specific cells or represents maintenance of antigen-specific but poorly proliferative populations is not defined. We used a set of ex vivo assays to evaluate the functionality of HCV specific CD4(+) T cells in persistent and resolved infection. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) from 24 prospectively recruited HCV polymerase chain reaction (PCR) positive individuals, 12 spontaneously resolved individuals (i.e. anti-HCV+, PCR-) and 11 healthy controls were analysed for interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) and interleukin 2 (IL-2) secretion by enzyme linked immunospot assays (ELISpot). HCV-specific CD4(+) proliferative responses of carboxy fluorescein succinimidyl ester-labelled PBMC were assessed using a sensitive single cell flow cytometric assay. Sustained IFN-gamma ELISpot responses were observed in the PCR+ group. However, proliferation of HCV-specific CD4(+) T cells in the PCR+ group was substantially reduced on a per cell basis, in parallel to IL-2 secretion, compared with responses in the PCR- group. In PCR- individuals, a strong relationship between cytokine secretion and proliferative capacity was seen. However, in PCR+ individuals, IFN-gamma secretion far exceeded proliferative capacity. During persistent HCV infection, some CD4(+) T-cell specificities appear to be lost, as measured using a range of techniques, but others, potentially important, are maintained as IFN-gamma secretors but with low proliferative capacity even using a highly sensitive assay. Such subsets may yet play a significant role in vivo and also provide a template for modulation in immunotherapeutic interventions. Hide abstract
Understanding human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1)-specific cytotoxic T-lymphocyte responses is important for the development of vaccines and therapies. We describe a novel method for the rational selection of peptides that target stable regions of the HIV-1 genome, rich in epitopes specifically recognized by the study population. This method will be of particular use under resource/sample-limited conditions. Hide abstract
BACKGROUND: Cellular immunity plays a key role in determining the outcome of hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection, although the majority of infections become persistent. The mechanisms behind persistence are still not clear; however, the primary site of infection, the liver, may be critical. We investigated the ability of CD8+ T-cells (CTL) to recognise and kill hepatocytes under cytokine stimulation. METHODS/PRINCIPLE FINDINGS: Resting hepatocytes cell lines expressed low levels of MHC Class I, but remained susceptible to CTL cytotoxicity. IFN-alpha treatment, in vitro, markedly increased hepatocyte MHC Class I expression, however, reduced sensitivity to CTL cytotoxicity. IFN-alpha stimulated hepatocyte lines were still able to present antigen and induce IFN-gamma expression in interacting CTL. Resistance to killing was not due to the inhibition of the FASL/FAS- pathway, as stimulated hepatocytes were still susceptible to FAS-mediated apoptosis. In vitro stimulation with IFN-alpha, or the introduction of a subgenomic HCV replicon into the HepG2 line, upregulated the expression of the granzyme-B inhibitor-proteinase inhibitor 9 (PI-9). PI-9 expression was also observed in liver tissue biopsies from patients with chronic HCV infection. CONCLUSION/SIGNIFICANCE: IFN-alpha induces resistance in hepatocytes to perforin/granzyme mediate CTL killing pathways. One possible mechanism could be through the expression of the PI-9. Hindrance of CTL cytotoxicity could contribute to the chronicity of hepatic viral infections. Hide abstract
PURPOSE OF REVIEW: This review sets out to overview treatment interruption in chronic HIV-1 infection: what treatment interruption promised, results from recent trials, and what the future holds. RECENT FINDINGS: Recent studies have produced mixed results; several trials have been prematurely halted, whereas others have reported more positive outcomes. One consistent finding has been the identification of the CD4 T-cell count nadir as a critical parameter in determining the outcome of treatment interruption. SUMMARY: The use of treatment interruption is still controversial, but it is becoming clear that certain individuals could benefit, and partial treatment interruption strategies warrant further investigation. Hide abstract
BACKGROUND: Liver cell lines closely resembling primary hepatocyte are essential for research on hepatitis viruses and hepatocyte function. Currently used cell lines are derived from hepatic tumours and have altered gene expression. AIMS: The generation and characterisation of novel human hepatocyte lines (HHLs) derived from healthy human liver, retaining the primary hepatocyte phenotype. RESULTS: Primary hepatocytes were immortalised with Moloney's mouse leukaemia virus expressing E6 and E7 proteins of human papillomavirus, and cultures propagated long-term. All HHLs contained markers of hepatocyte and biliary phenotype (cytokeratins 7, 8, 18 and 19), Cytochrome P450 and albumin. The HHLs did not express high levels of p53 or alpha-fetoprotein. When grown in a collagen sandwich culture, or at the air-liquid interface, HHLs were maintained as monolayer whereas Huh-7 and HepG2 formed thick layers. All HHLs showed increased capacity to bind recombinant hepatitis C virus-like particles in comparison with Huh-7 and HepG2. We also demonstrate that HHLs contained active gap junctions, and that the cells respond to stimulation with IFN-alpha by upregulation of major histocompatibility complex (MHC)-I and -II. CONCLUSIONS: These HHLs retain primary hepatocyte phenotype and should be useful for investigating mechanisms of entry and replication of hepatotropic viruses, and should also be valuable in the study of hepatocyte biology and pathology. Hide abstract
Cellular immune responses play an important role in the control of hepatitis C virus (HCV), although in the majority of cases they ultimately fail. We examine the mechanisms by which virus-specific T cells may interact with a cell that is infected with HCV and how this interaction may explain the success and failure of the immune response. As an infected cell presenting foreign antigen, the hepatocyte will interact with a large number of lymphocytes, both by direct cell to cell contact and by indirect means through the secretion of cytokines and chemokines. These interactions may lead on the one hand to the death of infected hepatocytes or suppression of viral replication and on the other hand to the death of T lymphocytes or down regulation of their function. We suggest that activation of lymphocytes in lymphoid organs leads to generation of effector T cells (positive loop), while at the same time presentation of antigen in the liver either on hepatocytes or other specialised antigen presenting cells depresses these responses (negative loop). This model helps to explain both the specific phenotype and low frequencies of HCV specific CTL in chronic infection, through early elimination of cells before expansion and maturation can occur. The outcome of HCV infection is likely to result from the early balance between these two simultaneous loops. Hide abstract
Germinal centers (GCs) are microanatomical structures critical for the development of high-affinity Abs and B cell memory. They are organized into two zones, light and dark, with coordinated roles, controlled by local signaling. The innate lectin-like transcript 1 (LLT1) is known to be expressed on B cells, but its functional role in the GC reaction has not been explored. In this study, we report high expression of LLT1 on GC-associated B cells, early plasmablasts, and GC-derived lymphomas. LLT1 expression was readily induced via BCR, CD40, and CpG stimulation on B cells. Unexpectedly, we found high expression of the LLT1 ligand, CD161, on follicular dendritic cells. Triggering of LLT1 supported B cell activation, CD83 upregulation, and CXCR4 downregulation. Overall, these data suggest that LLT1-CD161 interactions play a novel and important role in B cell maturation within the GC in humans. Hide abstract
Mucosal-associated invariant T (MAIT) cells are an abundant antibacterial innate-like lymphocyte population. There are conflicting reports as to their fate in HIV infection. The objective of this study was to determine whether MAIT cells are truly depleted in HIV infection. In this case-control study of HIV-positive patients and healthy controls, quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction was used to assess the abundance of messenger RNA (mRNA) and genomic DNA (gDNA) encoding the canonical MAIT cell T cell receptor (Vα7.2-Jα33). Comparison was made with flow cytometry. Significant depletion of both Vα7.2-Jα33 mRNA and gDNA was seen in HIV infection. Depletion of Vα7.2+CD161++ T cells was confirmed by flow cytometry. In HIV infection, the abundance of Vα7.2-Jα33 mRNA correlated most strongly with the frequency of Vα7.2+CD161++ cells. No increase was observed in the frequency of Vα7.2+CD161- cells among CD3+CD4- lymphocytes. MAIT cells are depleted from blood in HIV infection as confirmed by independent assays. Significant accumulation of a CD161- MAIT cell population is unlikely. Molecular approaches represent a suitable alternative to flow cytometry-based assays for tracking of MAIT cells in HIV and other settings. Hide abstract
Activation and function of human CD161++/MAIT cells and microbial defence
CD161++/MAIT cells make up 1 in 6 circulating CD8+ T cells and up to half of CD8+ T cells in the liver during chronic inflammation, such as hepatitis C. These unique cells sit at the bridge between innate and adaptive immunity, capable of secreting a broad range of cytokines, and readily induced to kill infected cells. They can be activated in two ways – one by innate signals such as the cytokines IL-12 and IL-18, and also through their TCR, which binds the conserved MHC Class I like molecule MR ...