Lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus (LCMV) is a paradigm-forming experimental system with a remarkable track record of contributing to the discovery of many of the fundamental concepts of modern immunology. The ability of LCMV to establish a chronic infection in immunocompetent adult mice was instrumental for identifying T cell exhaustion and this system has been invaluable for uncovering the complexity, regulators, and consequences of this state. These findings have been directly relevant for understanding why ineffective T cell responses commonly arise during many chronic infections including HIV and HCV, as well as during tumor outgrowth. The principal feature of exhausted T cells is the inability to elaborate the array of effector functions necessary to contain the underlying infection or tumor. Using LCMV to determine how to prevent and reverse T cell exhaustion has highlighted the potential of checkpoint blockade therapies, most notably PD-1 inhibition strategies, for improving cellular immunity under conditions of antigen persistence. Here, we discuss the discovery, properties, and regulators of exhausted T cells and highlight how LCMV has been at the forefront of advancing our understanding of these ineffective responses.
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