Effects of Dysregulated Diacylglycerol-Mediated Signaling on T Cell Function
Diacylglycerol (DAG), a lipid messenger generated upon T cell receptor (TCR) engagement, mediates signaling through the IKK/NF-κB and Ras/ERK pathways. Further downstream of the Ras/ERK pathway are mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) and MAP kinase signal integrating kinases Mnk1 and Mnk2. While mTOR acts as a critical regulator of T cell metabolism, homeostasis and function, Mnk1 and Mnk2 phosphorylate the initiation factor eIF4E that plays an important role in cap-dependent mRNA translation. Diacylglycerol kinases (DGKs) terminate DAG-mediated signals by phosphorylating DAG into phosphatidic acid. T cells that lack both α and ζ isoforms of DGK accumulate excess DAG upon activation, resulting in hyper-activation of the IKK/NF-κB, Ras/ERK and mTOR pathways, hypersensitivity to TCR stimulation, and loss of self-tolerance. Here, we have examined the mechanisms by which dysregulated DAG-mediated signaling affects T cell function. To this end, we studied the effects of hyper-activating individual DAG-mediated pathways (IKK/NF-κB and TSC/mTOR) on T cell function. We also examined the role of ERK-activated kinases Mnk1 and Mnk2 in T cell function.
Using mice with T cell-specific expression of a constitutively active form of IKKβ (`IKK' mice), we found that uncontrolled IKKβ/NF-κB signaling promotes T cell apoptosis and attenuates responsiveness to TCR stimulation. Defective IL-2 production and increased FasL expression contributed to enhanced IKK T cell apoptosis. Impaired IKK T cell activation and proliferation were associated with defects in TCR signaling, and upregulation of the cell surface inhibitory receptor PD1. In vivo, IKK T cells mounted a compromised antigen-specific CD8 T cell response with curtailed expansion and exaggerated contraction phases. Notably, expression of transcriptional repressor Blimp1 (a regulator of T cell exhaustion) was increased in IKK T cells, and conditionally deleting Blimp1 was able to largely restore responsiveness to TCR stimulation.
Investigating Mnk1/2 double knockout (DKO) mice, we found that Mnk1 and Mnk2 are dispensable for T cell development and function, but important for the pathogenesis of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE). TCR engagement activated Mnk1/2 in a Ras/ERK-dependent manner in primary T cells, and was inhibited by DGK α and ζ. Mnk1/2 deficiency did not affect the development of conventional αβ T cells, regulatory T cells, or invariant NKT cells. Mature T cells from DKO mice showed normal activation and CD4 TH differentiation ex vivo, but DKO mice developed lower clinical scores than WT counterparts in an EAE model, correlating with a smaller pool of MOG-reactive IL-17-producing and IFNγ-producing CD4 cells. These results suggest that Mnk1/2 may play a minimal role in T cell development and function but may control non-T cell lineages to regulate TH1 and TH17 differentiation in vivo.
To determine the effect of constitutive mTOR complex 1 activity on anti-bacterial CD8 responses, we investigated mice with T cell-specific deletion of TSC1, a suppressor of mTOR complex 1 activity. Using an established model system of transgenic (OT1) CD8 cell adoptive transfer and challenge with Listeria monocytogenes expressing a cognate antigen, we found that TSC1 deficiency impairs antigen-specific CD8 responses. Fewer TSC1-deficient OT1 cells were present in the peripheral blood and spleen at the peak of the response and fewer memory cells were found at later time points, in individual and competitive adoptive transfer experiments with WT counterparts. Weak expansion of TSC1-deficient cells was correlated with defects in survival and proliferation in vivo, while exaggerated contraction was associated with an increased ratio of SLECs to MPECs in the effector cell population. This perturbation in effector-memory differentiation was concomitant with enhanced T-bet expression and decreased Eomes expression among activated TSC1 KO cells. Upon competitive adoptive transfer with WT counterparts and antigen re-challenge, TSC1-deficient memory cells showed moderate defects in expansion but not cytokine production. Taken together, these findings provide direct evidence of a CD8 cell-intrinsic role for TSC1 in regulating antigen-specific primary and memory responses.
In sum, findings from these studies provide deeper insight into the regulation of T cell function by DAG-mediated pathways, and may have implications for the design of immune-modulation strategies during vaccination, autoimmunity and cancer immunotherapy.
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