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Upon acute viral infection, a typical cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) response is characterized by a phase of expansion and contraction after which it settles at a relatively stable memory level. Recently, experimental data from mice infected with murine cytomegalovirus (MCMV) showed different and unusual dynamics. After acute infection had resolved, some antigen specific CTL started to expand over time despite the fact that no replicative virus was detectable. This phenomenon has been termed as "CTL memory inflation". In order to examine the dynamics of this system further, we developed a mathematical model analysing the impact of innate and adaptive immune responses. According to this model, a potentially important contributor to CTL inflation is competition between the specific CTL response and an innate natural killer (NK) cell response. Inflation occurs most readily if the NK cell response is more efficient than the CTL at reducing virus load during acute infection, but thereafter maintains a chronic virus load which is sufficient to induce CTL proliferation. The model further suggests that weaker NK cell mediated protection can correlate with more pronounced CTL inflation dynamics over time. We present experimental data from mice infected with MCMV which are consistent with the theoretical predictions. This model provides valuable information and may help to explain the inflation of CMV specific CD8+T cells seen in humans as they age.

Original publication




Journal article


J R Soc Interface

Publication Date





533 - 543


Animals, Herpesviridae Infections, Humans, Immunologic Memory, Killer Cells, Natural, Mice, Mice, Inbred C57BL, Models, Immunological, Muromegalovirus, T-Lymphocytes, Cytotoxic, Virus Diseases