• Foxp3(+) T cells expressing RORγt represent a stable regulatory T-cell effector lineage with enhanced suppressive capacity during intestinal inflammation.

      Yang, B-H; Hagemann, S; Mamareli, P; Lauer, U; Hoffmann, U; Beckstette, M; Föhse, L; Prinz, I; Pezoldt, J; Suerbaum, S; et al. (2016-03)
      Foxp3 (forkhead box P3 transcription factor)-expressing regulatory T cells (Tregs) are essential for immunological tolerance, best illustrated by uncontrolled effector T-cell responses and autoimmunity upon loss of Foxp3 expression. Tregs can adopt specific effector phenotypes upon activation, reflecting the diversity of functional demands in the different tissues of the body. Here, we report that Foxp3(+)CD4(+) T cells coexpressing retinoic acid-related orphan receptor-γt (RORγt), the master transcription factor for T helper type 17 (Th17) cells, represent a stable effector Treg lineage. Transcriptomic and epigenetic profiling revealed that Foxp3(+)RORγt(+) T cells display signatures of both Tregs and Th17 cells, although the degree of similarity was higher to Foxp3(+)RORγt(-) Tregs than to Foxp3(-)RORγt(+) T cells. Importantly, Foxp3(+)RORγt(+) T cells were significantly demethylated at Treg-specific epigenetic signature genes such as Foxp3, Ctla-4, Gitr, Eos, and Helios, suggesting that these cells have a stable regulatory rather than inflammatory function. Indeed, adoptive transfer of Foxp3(+)RORγt(+) T cells in the T-cell transfer colitis model confirmed their Treg function and lineage stability in vivo, and revealed an enhanced suppressive capacity as compared with Foxp3(+)RORγt(-) Tregs. Thus, our data suggest that RORγt expression in Tregs contributes to an optimal suppressive capacity during gut-specific immune responses, rendering Foxp3(+)RORγt(+) T cells as an important effector Treg subset in the intestinal system.
    • Gut memories do not fade: epigenetic regulation of lasting gut homing receptor expression in CD4(+) memory T cells.

      Szilagyi, B A; Triebus, J; Kressler, C; de Almeida, M; Tierling, S; Durek, P; Mardahl, M; Szilagyi, A; Floess, S; Huehn, Jochen; et al. (2017-11)
      The concept of a "topographical memory" in lymphocytes implies a stable expression of homing receptors mediating trafficking of lymphocytes back to the tissue of initial activation. However, a significant plasticity of the gut-homing receptor α4β7 was found in CD8(+) T cells, questioning the concept. We now demonstrate that α4β7 expression in murine CD4(+) memory T cells is, in contrast, imprinted and remains stable in the absence of the inducing factor retinoic acid (RA) or other stimuli from mucosal environments. Repetitive rounds of RA treatment enhanced the stability of de novo induced α4β7. A novel enhancer element in the murine Itga4 locus was identified that showed, correlating to stability, selective DNA demethylation in mucosa-seeking memory cells and methylation-dependent transcriptional activity in a reporter gene assay. This implies that epigenetic mechanisms contribute to the stabilization of α4β7 expression. Analogous DNA methylation patterns could be observed in the human ITGA4 locus, suggesting that its epigenetic regulation is conserved between mice and men. These data prove that mucosa-specific homing mediated by α4β7 is imprinted in CD4(+) memory T cells, reinstating the validity of the concept of "topographical memory" for mucosal tissues, and imply a critical role of epigenetic mechanisms.