New vaccines are urgently needed against Mycobacterium tuberculosis (Mtb), which kills more than 1.4 million people each year . CD4 T cell differentiation is a key determinant of protective immunity against Mtb, but it is not fully understood how host-pathogen interactions shape individual antigen-specific T cell populations and their protective capacity . Here, we investigated the immunodominant Mtb antigen, MPT70, which is upregulated in response to gamma interferon (IFN-Î³) or nutrient/oxygen deprivation of in vitro-infected macrophages . Using a murine aerosol infection model, we compared the in vivo expression kinetics of MPT70 to a constitutively expressed antigen, ESAT-6, and analyzed their corresponding CD4 T cell phenotype and vaccine protection . For wild-type Mtb, we found that in vivo expression of MPT70 was delayed compared to ESAT-6 . This delayed expression was associated with induction of less differentiated MPT70-specific CD4 T cells but, compared to ESAT-6, also reduced protection after vaccination . In contrast, infection with an MPT70-overexpressing Mtb strain promoted highly differentiated KLRG1+CX3CR1+ CD4 T cells with limited lung-homing capacity . Importantly, this differentiated phenotype could be prevented by vaccination, and against the overexpressing strain, vaccination with MPT70 conferred protection similar to vaccination with ESAT-6 . Together, our data indicate that high in vivo antigen expression drives T cells toward terminal differentiation and that targeted vaccination with adjuvanted protein can counteract this phenomenon by maintaining T cells in a protective less differentiated state . These observations shed new light on host-pathogen interactions and provide guidance on how future Mtb vaccines can be designed to tip the immune balance in favor of the host.IMPORTANCE Tuberculosis, caused by Mtb, constitutes a global health crisis of massive proportions and the impact of the current coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic is expected to cause a rise in tuberculosis-related deaths . Improved vaccines are therefore needed more than ever, but a lack of knowledge on protective immunity hampers their development . The present study shows that constitutively expressed antigens with high availability drive highly differentiated CD4 T cells with diminished protective capacity, which could be a survival strategy by Mtb to evade T cell immunity against key antigens . We demonstrate that immunization with such antigens can counteract this phenomenon by maintaining antigen-specific T cells in a state of low differentiation . Future vaccine strategies should therefore explore combinations of multiple highly expressed antigens and we suggest that T cell differentiation could be used as a readily measurable parameter to identify these in both preclinical and clinical studies.