OpenStax Anatomy and Physiology
Mature T cells express either the CD4 marker or the CD8 marker, but not both. These markers are cell adhesion molecules that keep the T cell in close contact with the antigen-presenting cell by directly binding to the MHC molecule (to a different part of the molecule than does the antigen). Thus, T cells and antigen-presenting cells are held together in two ways: by CD4 or CD8 attaching to MHC and by the T cell receptor binding to antigen.
Although the correlation is not 100 percent, CD4-bearing T cells are associated with helper functions and CD8-bearing T cells are associated with cytotoxicity. These functional distinctions based on CD4 and CD8 markers are useful in defining the function of each type.
Helper T Cells and their Cytokines
Helper T cells (Th), bearing the CD4 molecule, function by secreting cytokines that act to enhance other immune responses. There are two classes of Th cells, and they act on different components of the immune response. These cells are not distinguished by their surface molecules but by the characteristic set of cytokines they secrete.
Th1 cells are a type of helper T cell that secretes cytokines that regulate the immunological activity and development of a variety of cells, including macrophages and other types of T cells.
Th2 cells, on the other hand, are cytokine-secreting cells that act on B cells to drive their differentiation into plasma cells that make antibody. In fact, T cell help is required for antibody responses to most protein antigens, and these are called T cell-dependent antigens.
Cytotoxic T cells
Cytotoxic T cells (Tc) are T cells that kill target cells by inducing apoptosis using the same mechanism as NK cells. They either express Fas ligand, which binds to the fas molecule on the target cell, or act by using perforins and granzymes contained in their cytoplasmic granules. As was discussed earlier with NK cells, killing a virally infected cell before the virus can complete its replication cycle results in the production of no infectious particles. As more Tc cells are developed during an immune response, they overwhelm the ability of the virus to cause disease. In addition, each Tc cell can kill more than one target cell, making them especially effective. Tc cells are so important in the antiviral immune response that some speculate that this was the main reason the adaptive immune response evolved in the first place.
Regulatory T Cells
Regulatory T cells (Treg), or suppressor T cells, are the most recently discovered of the types listed here, so less is understood about them. In addition to CD4, they bear the molecules CD25 and FOXP3. Exactly how they function is still under investigation, but it is known that they suppress other T cell immune responses. This is an important feature of the immune response, because if clonal expansion during immune responses were allowed to continue uncontrolled, these responses could lead to autoimmune diseases and other medical issues.
Not only do T cells directly destroy pathogens, but they regulate nearly all other types of the adaptive immune response as well, as evidenced by the functions of the T cell types, their surface markers, the cells they work on, and the types of pathogens they work against.
Betts, J. G., Young, K. A., Wise, J. A., Johnson, E., Poe, B., Kruse, D. H., … DeSaix, P. (n.d.). Anatomy and Physiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/details/books/anatomy-and-physiology