Follicular helper T cells (T(FH) cells) are responsible for effective B cell-mediated immunity, and Bcl-6 is a central factor for the differentiation of T(FH) cells. However, the molecular mechanisms that regulate the induction of T(FH) cells remain unclear. Here we found that the E3 ubiquitin ligase Itch was essential for the differentiation of T(FH) cells, germinal center responses and immunoglobulin G (IgG) responses to acute viral infection. Itch acted intrinsically in CD4(+) T cells at early stages of T(FH) cell development. Itch seemed to act upstream of Bcl-6 expression, as Bcl-6 expression was substantially impaired in Itch(-/-) cells, and the differentiation of Itch(-/-) T cells into T(FH) cells was restored by enforced expression of Bcl-6. Itch associated with the transcription factor Foxo1 and promoted its ubiquitination and degradation. The defective T(FH) differentiation of Itch(-/-) T cells was rectified by deletion of Foxo1. Thus, our results indicate that Itch acts as an essential positive regulator in the differentiation of T(FH) cells.
Bcl6 is required for CD4 T cell differentiation into T follicular helper cells (Tfh). In this study, we examined the role of IL-6 in early processes of in vivo Tfh differentiation, because the timing and mechanism of action of IL-6 in Tfh differentiation have been controversial in vivo. We found that early Bcl6(+)CXCR5(+) Tfh differentiation was severely impaired in the absence of IL-6; however, STAT3 deficiency failed to recapitulate that defect. IL-6R signaling activates the transcription factor STAT1 specifically in CD4 T cells. Strikingly, we found that STAT1 activity was required for Bcl6 induction and early Tfh differentiation in vivo. IL-6 mediated STAT3 activation is important for downregulation of IL-2R? to limit Th1 cell differentiation in an acute viral infection. Thus, IL-6 signaling is a major early inducer of the Tfh differentiation program unexpectedly mediated by both STAT3 and STAT1 transcription factors.
Cytokines are important modulators of lymphocytes, and both interleukin-21 (IL-21) and IL-6 have proposed roles in T follicular helper (Tfh) differentiation, and directly act on B cells. Here we investigated the absence of IL-6 alone, IL-21 alone, or the combined lack of IL-6 and IL-21 on Tfh differentiation and the development of B cell immunity in vivo. C57BL/6 or IL-21(-/-) mice were treated with a neutralizing monoclonal antibody against IL-6 throughout the course of an acute viral infection (lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus, LCMV). The combined absence of IL-6 and IL-21 resulted in reduced Tfh differentiation and reduced Bcl6 protein expression. In addition, we observed that these cytokines had a large impact on antigen-specific B cell responses. IL-6 and IL-21 collaborate in the acute T-dependent antiviral antibody response (90% loss of circulating antiviral IgG in the absence of both cytokines). In contrast, we observed reduced germinal center formation only in the absence of IL-21. Absence of IL-6 had no impact on germinal centers, and combined absence of both IL-21 and IL-6 revealed no synergistic effect on germinal center B cell development. Studying CD4 T cells in vitro, we found that high IL-21 production was not associated with high Bcl6 or CXCR5 expression. TCR stimulation of purified naïve CD4 T cells in the presence of IL-6 also did not result in Tfh differentiation, as determined by Bcl6 or CXCR5 protein expression. Cumulatively, our data indicates that optimal Tfh formation requires IL-21 and IL-6, and that cytokines alone are insufficient to drive Tfh differentiation.
The nature of follicular helper CD4(+) T (Tfh) cell differentiation remains controversial, including the minimal signals required for Tfh cell differentiation and the time at which Tfh cell differentiation occurs. Here we determine that Tfh cell development initiates immediately during dendritic cell (DC) priming in vivo. We demonstrate that inducible costimulator (ICOS) provides a critical early signal to induce the transcription factor Bcl6, and Bcl6 then induces CXCR5, the canonical feature of Tfh cells. Strikingly, a bifurcation between Tfh and effector Th cells was measurable by the second cell division of CD4(+) T cells, at day 2 after an acute viral infection: IL2R?(int) cells expressed Bcl6 and CXCR5 (Tfh cell program), whereas IL2R?(hi) cells exhibited strong Blimp1 expression that repressed Bcl6 (effector Th cell program). Virtually complete polarization between Bcl6(+) Tfh cells and Blimp1(+) effector Th cell populations developed by 72 hr, even without B cells. Tfh cells were subsequently lost in the absence of B cells, demonstrating a B cell requirement for maintenance of Bcl6 and Tfh cell commitment via sequential ICOS signals.
Follicular helper T (T(FH)) cells, defined by expression of the surface markers CXCR5 and programmed death receptor-1 (PD-1) and synthesis of IL-21, require upregulation of the transcriptional repressor Bcl6 for their development and function in B cell maturation in germinal centers. We have explored the role of B cells and the cytokines IL-6 and IL-21 in the in vivo regulation of Bcl6 expression and T(FH) cell development. We found that T(FH) cells are characterized by a Bcl6-dependent downregulation of P-selectin glycoprotein ligand 1 (PSGL1, a CCL19- and CCL21-binding protein), indicating that, like CXCR5 and PD-1 upregulation, modulation of PSGL1 expression is part of the T(FH) cell program of differentiation. B cells were neither required for initial upregulation of Bcl6 nor PSGL1 downregulation, suggesting these events preceded T-B cell interactions, although they were required for full development of the T(FH) cell phenotype, including CXCR5 and PD-1 upregulation, and IL-21 synthesis. Bcl6 upregulation and T(FH) cell differentiation were independent of IL-6 and IL-21, revealing that either cytokine is not absolutely required for development of Bcl6(+) T(FH) cells in vivo. These data increase our understanding of Bcl6 regulation in T(FH) cells and their differentiation in vivo and identifies a new surface marker that may be functionally relevant in this subset.
Effective B cell-mediated immunity and antibody responses often require help from CD4+ T cells. It is thought that a distinct CD4+ effector T cell subset, called T follicular helper cells (T(FH)), provides this help; however, the molecular requirements for T(FH) differentiation are unknown. We found that expression of the transcription factor Bcl6 in CD4+ T cells is both necessary and sufficient for in vivo T(FH) differentiation and T cell help to B cells in mice. In contrast, the transcription factor Blimp-1, an antagonist of Bcl6, inhibits T(FH) differentiation and help, thereby preventing B cell germinal center and antibody responses. These findings demonstrate that T(FH) cells are required for proper B cell responses in vivo and that Bcl6 and Blimp-1 play central but opposing roles in T(FH) differentiation.
Follicular helper CD4 T (Tfh) cells provide B cells with signals that are important for the generation of high-affinity Abs and immunological memory and, therefore, are critical for the protective immunity elicited by most human vaccines. Transcriptional regulators of human Tfh cell differentiation are poorly understood. In this article, we demonstrate that Bcl6 controls specific gene modules for human Tfh cell differentiation. The introduction of Bcl6 expression in primary human CD4 T cells resulted in the regulation of a core set of migration genes that enable trafficking to germinal centers: CXCR4, CXCR5, CCR7, and EBI2. Bcl6 expression also induced a module of protein expression critical for T-B interactions, including SAP, CD40L, PD-1, ICOS, and CXCL13. This constitutes direct evidence for Bcl6 control of most of these functions and includes three genes known to be loci of severe human genetic immunodeficiencies (CD40L, SH2D1A, and ICOS). Introduction of Bcl6 did not alter the expression of IL-21 or IL-4, the primary cytokines of human Tfh cells. We show in this article that introduction of Maf (c-Maf) does induce the capacity to express IL-21. Surprisingly, Maf also induced CXCR5 expression. Coexpression of Bcl6 and Maf revealed that Bcl6 and Maf cooperate in the induction of CXCR4, PD-1, and ICOS. Altogether, these findings reveal that Bcl6 and Maf collaborate to orchestrate a suite of genes that define core characteristics of human Tfh cell biology.
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