Memory CD4+ T Cells: fate determination, positive feedback and plasticity
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Naïve CD4+ T cells undergo massive cell proliferation upon encountering their cognate ligand. This proliferation depends upon appropriate cues from the antigen-presenting cells that have processed the antigen and present the peptide to the T cells, and requires the establishment of a cytokine environment that can support such proliferation. Expansion of antigen-specific CD4+ T cells needs to be coupled with differentiation into one of several effector/regulatory phenotypes if the priming event is to result in cells that can initially act to control the particular pathogen that elicited the response, and later to serve as memory cells to insure an appropriate response upon reintroduction of the pathogen. Here, we discuss the initiation of T helper lineage commitment, the positive feedback regulation by the cytokine environment to enhance and stabilize the differentiation into distinct T helper subsets, and the biological significance of CD4+ T cell plasticity and long-term CD4+ T cell memory.