On the T cell front

EMBO J 39:e105220 (2020). Bevington SL, et al. IL-2/IL-7-inducible factors pioneer the path to T cell differentiation in advance of lineage-defining factors.

When dormant naive T cells first become activated by antigen-presenting cells, they express the autocrine growth factor IL-2 which transforms them into rapidly dividing effector T cells. During this process, hundreds of genes undergo epigenetic reprogramming for efficient activation, and also for potential reactivation after they return to quiescence as memory T cells. However, the relative contributions of IL-2 and T cell receptor signaling to this process are unknown. Here, we show that IL-2 signaling is required to maintain open chromatin at hundreds of gene regulatory elements, many of which control subsequent stimulus-dependent alternative pathways of T cell differentiation. We demonstrate that IL-2 activates binding of AP-1 and STAT5 at sites that can subsequently bind lineage-determining transcription factors, depending upon what other external factors exist in the local T cell environment. Once established, priming can also be maintained by the stroma-derived homeostatic cytokine IL-7, and priming diminishes if Il7r is subsequently deleted in vivo. Hence, IL-2 is not just a growth factor; it lays the foundation for T cell differentiation and immunological memory.

Cell Rep 31:107748 (2020). Bevington SL, et al. Chromatin Priming Renders T Cell Tolerance-Associated Genes Sensitive to Activation below the Signaling Threshold for Immune Response Genes.

Immunological homeostasis in T cells is maintained by a tightly regulated signaling and transcriptional network. Full engagement of effector T cells occurs only when signaling exceeds a critical threshold that enables induction of immune response genes carrying an epigenetic memory of prior activation. Here we investigate the underlying mechanisms causing the suppression of normal immune responses when T cells are rendered anergic by tolerance induction. By performing an integrated analysis of signaling, epigenetic modifications, and gene expression, we demonstrate that immunological tolerance is established when both signaling to and chromatin priming of immune response genes are weakened. In parallel, chromatin priming of immune-repressive genes becomes boosted, rendering them sensitive to low levels of signaling below the threshold needed to activate immune response genes. Our study reveals how repeated exposure to antigens causes an altered epigenetic state leading to T cell anergy and tolerance, representing a basis for treating auto-immune diseases.

Front Immunol 12:642807 (2021). Bevington SL, et al. Stable Epigenetic Programming of Effector and Central Memory CD4 T Cells Occurs Within 7 Days of Antigen Exposure In Vivo.

T cell immunological memory is established within days of an infection, but little is known about the in vivo changes in gene regulatory networks accounting for their ability to respond more efficiently to secondary infections. To decipher the timing and nature of immunological memory we performed genome-wide analyses of epigenetic and transcriptional changes in a mouse model generating antigen-specific T cells. Epigenetic reprogramming for Th differentiation and memory T cell formation was already established by the peak of the T cell response after 7 days. The Th memory T cell program was associated with a gain of open chromatin regions, enriched for RUNX, ETS and T-bet motifs, which remained stable for 56 days. The epigenetic programs for both effector memory, associated with T-bet, and central memory, associated with TCF-1, were established in parallel. Memory T cell-specific regulatory elements were associated with greatly enhanced inducible Th1-biased responses during secondary exposures to antigen. Furthermore, memory T cells responded in vivo to re-exposure to antigen by rapidly reprograming the entire ETS factor gene regulatory network, by suppressing Ets1 and activating Etv6 expression. These data show that gene regulatory networks are epigenetically reprogrammed towards memory during infection, and undergo substantial changes upon re-stimulation.