Autoimmune effector memory T cells: The bad and the good

Priyadharshini Devarajan, Zhibin Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


Immunological memory is a hallmark of adaptive immunity, a defense mechanism endowed to vertebrates during evolution. However, an autoimmune pathogenic role of memory lymphocytes is also emerging with accumulating evidence, despite reasonable skepticism on their existence in a chronic setting of autoimmune damage. It is conceivable that autoimmune memory would be particularly harmful since memory cells would constantly "remember" and attack the body's healthy tissues. It is even more detrimental given the resistance of memory T cells to immunomodulatory therapies. In this review, we focus on self-antigen-reactive CD4+ effector memory T (T EM) cells, surveying the evidence for the role of the TEM compartment in autoimmune pathogenesis. We will also discuss the role of T EM cells in chronic and acute infectious disease settings and how they compare to their counterparts in autoimmune diseases. With their long-lasting potency, the autoimmune TEM cells could also play a critical role in anti-tumor immunity, which may be largely based on their reactivity to self-antigens therefore, although autoimmune TEM cells are "bad" due to their role in relentless perpetration of tissue damage in autoimmune disease settings, they are unlikely a by-product of industrial development along the modern surge of autoimmune disease prevalence. Rather, they may be a product of evolution for their "good" in clearing damaged host cells in chronic infections and malignant cells in cancer settings.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)12-22
Number of pages11
JournalImmunologic Research
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - Dec 2013


  • Autoimmunity
  • CTLA4
  • Genomic
  • Memory
  • T cells
  • Tumor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology


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