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Nat Immunol. 2012 May;13(5):491-8. doi: 10.1038/ni.2261.

The development and fate of follicular helper T cells defined by an IL-21 reporter mouse.

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The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, Parkville, Australia.


Germinal centers require CD4⁺ follicular helper T cells (TFH cells), whose hallmark is expression of the transcriptional repressor Bcl-6, the chemokine receptor CXCR5 and interleukin 21 (IL-21). To track the development and fate of TFH cells, we generated an IL-21 reporter mouse by introducing sequence encoding green fluorescent protein (GFP) into the Il21 locus; these mice had expression of IL-21–GFP in CD4⁺CXCR5⁺PD-1⁺ TFH cells. IL-21–GFP⁺ TFH cells were multifunctional helper cells that coexpressed several cytokines, including interferon-g (IFN-g), IL-2 and IL-4. TFH cells proliferated and gave rise to transferrable memory cells with plasticity, which differentiated after recall into conventional effector helper T cells and TFH cells. Thus, we demonstrated that TFH cells were not terminally differentiated but instead retained the flexibility to be recruited into other helper T cell subsets and nonlymphoid tissues.

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