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Immunity. 2011 Oct 28;35(4):622-32. doi: 10.1016/j.immuni.2011.07.015. Epub 2011 Oct 20.

Functional and epigenetic studies reveal multistep differentiation and plasticity of in vitro-generated and in vivo-derived follicular T helper cells.

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National Human Genome Research Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.


Follicular T helper (Tfh) cells provide critical help to B cells for germinal center (GC) formation. Mutations affecting SLAM-associated protein (SAP) prevent GC formation because of defective T cell-B cell interactions, yet effects on Tfh cell differentiation remain unclear. We describe the in vitro differentiation of functionally competent "Tfh-like" cells that expressed interleukin-21, Tfh cell markers, and Bcl6 and rescued GC formation in SAP-deficient hosts better than other T helper (Th) cells. SAP-deficient Tfh-like cells appeared virtually indistinguishable from wild-type, yet failed to support GCs in vivo. Interestingly, both Tfh-like and in vivo-derived Tfh cells could produce effector cytokines in response to polarizing conditions. Moreover, Th1, Th2, and Th17 cells could be reprogrammed to obtain Tfh cell characteristics. ChIP-Seq analyses revealed positive epigenetic markings on Tbx21, Gata3, and Rorc in Tfh-like and ex vivo Tfh cells and on Bcl6 in non-Tfh cells, supporting the concept of plasticity between Tfh and other Th cell populations.

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