MicroRNA and Epigenetic Controls of CD4+ T cells' Activation, Differentiation and Maintenance
As a major component of the adaptive immune system, CD4+ T cells play a vital role in host defense and immune tolerance. The potency and accuracy of CD4+ T cell-mediated protection lie in their ability to differentiate into distinct subsets that could carry out unique duties. In this dissertation, we dissected the roles and interplays between two emerging mechanisms, miRNAs and epigenetic processes, in regulating CD4+ T cell-mediated responses. Using both gain- and loss-of-function genetic tools, we demonstrated that a miRNA cluster, miR-17-92, is critical to promote Th1 responses and suppress inducible Treg differentiation. Mechanistically, we found that through targeting Pten, miR-17-92 promotes PI3K activation. Strong TCR-PI3K activation leads to the accumulation of DNMT1, elevated CpG methylation in the foxp3 promoter, and suppression of foxp3 transcription. Furthermore, we demonstrated that an epigenetic regulator, methyl CpG binding protein 2 (MeCP2), is critical to sustain Foxp3 expression in Tregs, and to support Th1 and Th17 differentiation in conventional CD4+ T cells (Tcons). In Tregs, MeCP2 directly binds to the CNS2 region of foxp3 locus to promote its local histone H3 acetylation; while in Tcons, MeCP2 enhances the locus accessibility and transcription of miR-124, which negatively controls SOCS5 translation to support STAT1, STAT3 activation and Th1, Th17 differentiation. Overall, miRNAs and epigenetic processes may crosstalk to control CD4+ T cell differentiation and function.
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