Maintenance of T cell homeostasis is critical for normal functioning of the immune system. After thymocyte selection, T cells enter the peripheral lymphoid organs and are maintained there as naive cells. Transient disruption of homeostasis occurs when naive T cells undergo antigen-driven expansion and acquire effector functions. Effector T cells then either undergo apoptosis (i.e., contraction at the population level) or survive to become memory cells. This process is crucial: it resets T cell homeostasis, promotes protective immunity, and limits autoimmunity. While both pathways of apoptosis (death receptor and Bcl-2 regulated) can affect T cell homeostasis, recent data point to the Bcl-2-regulated pathway, under dynamic regulation by common gamma chain cytokines, as being critical for T cell homeostasis in vivo. Bim is a non-redundant, pro-apoptotic BH-3-containing molecule critical for limiting survival of naive, effector, and to a lesser extent memory T cells. However, the mechanism(s) by which effector T cells survive and enter the memory compartment remain unclear. Such knowledge is crucial for our ability to therapeutically manipulate the metamorphosis of effector T cells to memory T cells. We have found that as cells transition through stages of activation, the anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 family members critical for combating Bim appear to change. In naive and resting memory T cells, Bcl-2 is critical to antagonize Bim and promote survival. In situations where Bcl-2 is decreased or absent, Mcl-1 likely antagonizes Bim, but does so less efficiently than Bcl-2. Collectively, these new preliminary data suggest a model in which cytokine-driven signals through Stat5 to Bcl-2 and/or Mcl-1 modulate susceptibility of effector T cells to Bim-mediated death. A testable prediction of this model is that cytokine-driven antagonism of Bim should drive effector T cell survival and enhance pathogen clearance. Experiments in this proposal will test three interrelated hypotheses: (i) Mcl-1 antagonizes Bim in effector T cells when Bcl-2 levels are low (ii) depending upon the cytokine milieu Stat5 signaling to Bcl-2 and/ or Mcl-1 is critical for survival of effector T cells in vivo;and (iii) enhancement of cytokine availability can lead to increased effector T cell survival and pathogen clearance. The long-term goal of this research is to identify molecular targets that could be exploited therapeutically to enhance T cell survival (i.e. to improve vaccination) or to decrease T cell survival (i.e. suppress autoimmune disease or transplant rejection).

Public Health Relevance

Maintenance of T cell homeostasis is critical for normal functioning of the immune system. After an infection, the majority of T cells that have fought the infection die, while some remain, become """"""""memory"""""""" cells, and provide protection from re-infection. Mechanisms that control the death/survival of these T cells remain unclear, but are critical to our understanding of protective immunity. We have found that a single molecule Bim limits the numbers of memory T cells in mice. This proposal explores mechanism(s) by which T cells normally combat Bim and how they can be manipulated to combat Bim to improve immunologic memory.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
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Cellular and Molecular Immunology - B Study Section (CMIB)
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Leitner, Wolfgang W
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Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center
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