Virus-specific cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL) are thought to be responsible for the eradication of respiratory influenza virus infections by direct cytolysis of virus-infected epithelial cells. In this study, we provide evidence for a role for alveolar macrophages (AM) in the regulation of pulmonary virus-specific CTL responses. Prior to infection with influenza virus, AM were selectively eliminated in vivo with a liposome-mediated depletion technique, and virus-specific CTL activities of lung and mediastinal lymph node (MLN) cells were assayed ex vivo and compared with those for normal mice. AM depletion resulted in increased primary CTL responses and changed the kinetics of the CTL response. Flow cytometric analysis of lung and MLN cells showed that the percentage of CD8+ cells was not altered after AM depletion and that lung cells from AM-depleted mice had an increased capacity to lyse virus-infected cells. Upon restimulation in vitro, virus-specific CTL activity in lung cells of normal mice was similar to that in lung cells of AM-depleted mice. Furthermore, elimination of AM resulted in increased virus titers in the lung, but virus clearance as a function of time was not affected. Our results show that AM regulate virus-specific CTL responses during respiratory influenza virus infection by removing viral particles, by downregulating the priming and activity of CTL in MLN cells, and by inhibiting the expansion of virus-specific CTL in the lung
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