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J Immunol. 2014 Jul 15;193(2):673-87. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.1302058. Epub 2014 Jun 13.

Innate PLZF+CD4+ αβ T cells develop and expand in the absence of Itk.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, MA 01655; and.
  • 2National Human Genome Research Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20814.
  • 3Department of Pathology, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, MA 01655; and


T cell development in the thymus produces multiple lineages of cells, including innate T cells. Studies in mice harboring alterations in TCR signaling proteins or transcriptional regulators have revealed an expanded population of CD4(+) innate T cells in the thymus that produce IL-4 and express the transcription factor promyelocytic leukemia zinc finger (PLZF). In these mice, IL-4 produced by the CD4(+)PLZF(+) T cell population leads to the conversion of conventional CD8(+) thymocytes into innate CD8(+) T cells resembling memory T cells expressing eomesodermin. The expression of PLZF, the signature invariant NKT cell transcription factor, in these innate CD4(+) T cells suggests that they might be a subset of αβ or γδ TCR(+) NKT cells or mucosal-associated invariant T (MAIT) cells. To address these possibilities, we characterized the CD4(+)PLZF(+) innate T cells in itk(-/-) mice. We show that itk(-/-) innate PLZF(+)CD4(+) T cells are not CD1d-dependent NKT cells, MR1-dependent MAIT cells, or γδ T cells. Furthermore, although the itk(-/-) innate PLZF(+)CD4(+) T cells express αβ TCRs, neither β2-microglobulin-dependent MHC class I nor any MHC class II molecules are required for their development. In contrast to invariant NKT cells and MAIT cells, this population has a highly diverse TCRα-chain repertoire. Analysis of peripheral tissues indicates that itk(-/-) innate PLZF(+)CD4(+) T cells preferentially home to spleen and mesenteric lymph nodes owing to increased expression of gut-homing receptors, and that their expansion is regulated by commensal gut flora. These data support the conclusion that itk(-/-) innate PLZF(+)CD4(+) T cells are a novel subset of innate T cells.

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