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PLoS One. 2011 Jan 19;6(1):e16287. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0016287.

The dynamic processing of CD46 intracellular domains provides a molecular rheostat for T cell activation.

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Institute of Immunology and Infection Research, Edinburgh, United Kingdom.



Adequate termination of an immune response is as important as the induction of an appropriate response. CD46, a regulator of complement activity, promotes T cell activation and differentiation towards a regulatory Tr1 phenotype. This Tr1 differentiation pathway is defective in patients with MS, asthma and rheumatoid arthritis, underlying its importance in controlling T cell function and the need to understand its regulatory mechanisms. CD46 has two cytoplasmic tails, Cyt1 and Cyt2, derived from alternative splicing, which are co-expressed in all nucleated human cells. The regulation of their expression and precise functions in regulating human T cell activation has not been fully elucidated.


Here, we first report the novel role of CD46 in terminating T cell activation. Second, we demonstrate that its functions as an activator and inhibitor of T cell responses are mediated through the temporal processing of its cytoplasmic tails. Cyt1 processing is required to turn T cell activation on, while processing of Cyt2 switches T cell activation off, as demonstrated by proliferation, CD25 expression and cytokine secretion. Both tails require processing by Presenilin/γSecretase (P/γS) to exert these functions. This was confirmed by expressing wild-type Cyt1 and Cyt2 tails and uncleavable mutant tails in primary T cells. The role of CD46 tails was also demonstrated with T cells expressing CD19 ectodomain-CD46 C-Terminal Fragment (CTF) fusions, which allowed specific triggering of each tail individually.


We conclude that CD46 acts as a molecular rheostat to control human T cell activation through the regulation of processing of its cytoplasmic tails.

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