Lymph node fibroblastic reticular cells (FRCs) respond to signals from activated T cells by releasing nitric oxide, which inhibits T cell proliferation and restricts the size of the expanding T cell pool. Whether interactions with FRCs also support the function or differentiation of activated CD8+ T cells is not known. Here we report that encounters with FRCs enhanced cytokine production and remodeled chromatin accessibility in newly activated CD8+ T cells via interleukin-6. These epigenetic changes facilitated metabolic reprogramming and amplified the activity of pro-survival pathways through differential transcription factor activity. Accordingly, FRC conditioning significantly enhanced the persistence of virus-specific CD8+ T cells in vivo and augmented their differentiation into tissue-resident memory T cells. Our study demonstrates that FRCs play a role beyond restricting T cell expansion—they can also shape the fate and function of CD8+ T cells.
T cell stimulation is metabolically demanding. To exit quiescence, T cells rely on environmental nutrients, including glucose and the amino acids glutamine, leucine, serine, and arginine. The expression of transporters for these nutrients is tightly regulated and required for T cell activation. In contrast to these amino acids, which are essential or require multi-step biosynthesis, alanine can be made from pyruvate by a single transamination. Here, we show that extracellular alanine is nevertheless required for efficient exit from quiescence during naive T cell activation and memory T cell restimulation. Alanine deprivation leads to metabolic and functional impairments. Mechanistically, this vulnerability reflects the low expression of alanine aminotransferase, the enzyme required for interconverting pyruvate and alanine, whereas activated T cells instead induce alanine transporters. Stable isotope tracing reveals that alanine is not catabolized but instead supports protein synthesis. Thus, T cells depend on exogenous alanine for protein synthesis and normal activation.
Immunotherapy, especially blockade of the PD-1/PD-L1 and CTLA-4 axes, has resulted in durable responses in a range of cancers. However, responses remain heterogeneous among patients. Treatment outcome results from changes in the tumor microenvironment imposed by such blockade. Here, we use immuno-PET and single-cell RNA sequencing to increase our understanding of the dynamics of immune cells and their functional status in the tumor microenvironment in response to PD-1 blockade. Our data provide insights into the dynamics of CD8+ T cells and the functional status of the myeloid compartment in response to PD-1 blockade.
CD8+ T cell exhaustion is a state of dysfunction acquired in chronic viral infection and cancer, characterized by the formation of Slamf6+ progenitor exhausted and Tim-3+ terminally exhausted subpopulations through unknown mechanisms. Here we establish the phosphatase PTPN2 as a new regulator of the differentiation of the terminally exhausted subpopulation that functions by attenuating type 1 interferon signaling. Deletion of Ptpn2 in CD8+ T cells increased the generation, proliferative capacity and cytotoxicity of Tim-3+ cells without altering Slamf6+ numbers during lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus clone 13 infection. Likewise, Ptpn2 deletion in CD8+ T cells enhanced Tim-3+ anti-tumor responses and improved tumor control. Deletion of Ptpn2 throughout the immune system resulted in MC38 tumor clearance and improved programmed cell death-1 checkpoint blockade responses to B16 tumors. Our results indicate that increasing the number of cytotoxic Tim-3+CD8+ T cells can promote effective anti-tumor immunity and implicate PTPN2 in immune cells as an attractive cancer immunotherapy target.
Oncology has recently undergone a revolutionary change with widespread adoption of immunotherapy for many cancers. Immunotherapy using monoclonal antibodies against checkpoint molecules, including programmed death (PD)-1, PD ligand (PD-L)1, and cytotoxic T lymphocyte-associated antigen (CTLA)-4, is effective in a significant subset of patients. However, immune-related adverse events (irAEs) have emerged as frequent complications of checkpoint blockade, likely due to the physiological role of checkpoint pathways in regulating adaptive immunity and preventing autoimmunity. As immunotherapy becomes more common, a better understanding of the etiology of irAEs and ways to limit these events is needed. At the same time, studying these new therapy-related disorders provides an opportunity to better understand naturally occurring human autoimmune and inflammatory disorders, with the potential to improve therapies for cancer and autoimmune diseases.
Follicular regulatory T (Tfr) cells are a regulatory T cell subset that controls antibody production by inhibiting T follicular helper (Tfh)-mediated help to B cells. Tfh and Tfr cells possess opposing functions suggesting unique programming. Here we elucidated the transcriptional program controlling Tfr suppressive function. We found that Tfr cells have a program for suppressive function fine-tuned by tissue microenvironment. The transcription factor FoxP3 and chromatin-modifying enzyme EZH2 are essential for this transcriptional program but regulate the program in distinct ways. FoxP3 modifies the Tfh program to induce a Tfr-like functional state, demonstrating that Tfr cells coopt the Tfh program for suppression. Importantly, we identified a Tfr cell population that loses the Tfr program to become "ex-Tfr" cells with altered functionality. These dysfunctional ex-Tfr cells may have roles in modulating pathogenic antibody responses. Taken together, our studies reveal mechanisms controlling the Tfr transcriptional program and how failure of these mechanisms leads to dysfunctional Tfr cells.
T cell dysfunction is a hallmark of many cancers, but the basis for T cell dysfunction and the mechanisms by which antibody blockade of the inhibitory receptor PD-1 (anti-PD-1) reinvigorates T cells are not fully understood. Here we show that such therapy acts on a specific subpopulation of exhausted CD8+ tumor-infiltrating lymphocytes (TILs). Dysfunctional CD8+ TILs possess canonical epigenetic and transcriptional features of exhaustion that mirror those seen in chronic viral infection. Exhausted CD8+ TILs include a subpopulation of ‘progenitor exhausted’ cells that retain polyfunctionality, persist long term and differentiate into ‘terminally exhausted’ TILs. Consequently, progenitor exhausted CD8+ TILs are better able to control tumor growth than are terminally exhausted T cells. Progenitor exhausted TILs can respond to anti-PD-1 therapy, but terminally exhausted TILs cannot. Patients with melanoma who have a higher percentage of progenitor exhausted cells experience a longer duration of response to checkpoint-blockade therapy. Thus, approaches to expand the population of progenitor exhausted CD8+ T cells might be an important component of improving the response to checkpoint blockade.
Therapies that target the function of immune cells have significant clinical efficacy in diseases such as cancer and autoimmunity. Although functional genomics has accelerated therapeutic target discovery in cancer, its use in primary immune cells is limited because vector delivery is inefficient and can perturb cell states. Here we describe CHIME: CHimeric IMmune Editing, a CRISPR-Cas9 bone marrow delivery system to rapidly evaluate gene function in innate and adaptive immune cells in vivo without ex vivo manipulation of these mature lineages. This approach enables efficient deletion of genes of interest in major immune lineages without altering their development or function. We use this approach to perform an in vivo pooled genetic screen and identify Ptpn2 as a negative regulator of CD8+ T cell-mediated responses to LCMV Clone 13 viral infection. These findings indicate that this genetic platform can enable rapid target discovery through pooled screening in immune cells in vivo.