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J Immunol. 2003 Oct 1;171(7):3542-9.

Genetic reprogramming of primary human T cells reveals functional plasticity in Th cell differentiation.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Vanderbilt University Medical School, Nashville, TN 37232-2363, USA.


Activation of naive T cells through the TCR and cytokine signals directs their differentiation into effector or memory subsets with different cytokine profiles. Here, we tested the flexibility of human Th1 or Th2 differentiation by forced expression of transcription factors T-bet and GATA-3. Ectopic expression of T-bet and GATA-3 in freshly isolated human T(N) cells resulted in their differentiation to a Th1 and Th2 phenotype, respectively, in the absence of polarizing cytokines. Introduction of GATA-3 into lineage-committed Th1 cells induced the expression of Th2-specific cytokines (IL-4 and IL-5) and chemotactic receptors (CCR4, chemoattractant receptor-homologous molecule expressed on Th2 cells (CRTH2). However, these cells partially maintained their Th1-specific profile (IFN-gamma and IL-12Rbeta2 expression). Conversely, expression of T-bet in lineage-committed Th2 cells caused a more profound switch to the Th1 phenotype, including the up-regulation of CXCR3 and down-regulation of CCR4 and CRTH2. Interestingly, similar to the naive T cell subset, central memory T cells were also largely programmed toward Th1 or Th2 effector cells upon expression of T-bet and GATA-3, respectively. However, expression of these transcription factors in effector memory T cells was much less influential on cytokine and chemokine receptor expression profiles. Our results reveal remarkable plasticity in the differentiation programs of human memory T cells. This flexibility is progressively diminished as cells mature from naive to effector T cells. These findings have important implications in understanding the molecular mechanisms of human T cell differentiation and for devising novel therapeutic strategies aimed at immunomodulation of skewed effector T cell responses.

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