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J Immunol. 2009 Dec 1;183(11):7286-96. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.0902490. Epub 2009 Nov 13.

T cell intrinsic heterodimeric complexes between HVEM and BTLA determine receptivity to the surrounding microenvironment.

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Division of Molecular Immunology, La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology, La Jolla, CA 92037, USA.


The inhibitory cosignaling pathway formed between the TNF receptor herpesvirus entry mediator (HVEM, TNFRSF14) and the Ig superfamily members, B and T lymphocyte attenuator (BTLA) and CD160, limits the activation of T cells. However, BTLA and CD160 can also serve as activating ligands for HVEM when presented in trans by adjacent cells, thus forming a bidirectional signaling pathway. BTLA and CD160 can directly activate the HVEM-dependent NF-kappaB RelA transcriptional complex raising the question of how NF-kappaB activation is repressed in naive T cells. In this study, we show BTLA interacts with HVEM in cis, forming a heterodimeric complex in naive T cells that inhibits HVEM-dependent NF-kappaB activation. The cis-interaction between HVEM and BTLA is the predominant form expressed on the surface of naive human and mouse T cells. The BTLA ectodomain acts as a competitive inhibitor blocking BTLA and CD160 from binding in trans to HVEM and initiating NF-kappaB activation. The TNF-related ligand, LIGHT (homologous to lymphotoxins, exhibits inducible expression, and competes with HSV glycoprotein D for HVEM, a receptor expressed by T lymphocytes, or TNFSF14) binds HVEM in the cis-complex, but NF-kappaB activation was attenuated, suggesting BTLA prevents oligomerization of HVEM in the cis-complex. Genetic deletion of BTLA or pharmacologic disruption of the HVEM-BTLA cis-complex in T cells promoted HVEM activation in trans. Interestingly, herpes simplex virus envelope glycoprotein D formed a cis-complex with HVEM, yet surprisingly, promoted the activation NF-kappaB RelA. We suggest that the HVEM-BTLA cis-complex competitively inhibits HVEM activation by ligands expressed in the surrounding microenvironment, thus helping maintain T cells in the naive state.

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