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Nat Immunol. 2012 Oct;13(10):972-80. doi: 10.1038/ni.2420. Epub 2012 Sep 9.

A multiply redundant genetic switch 'locks in' the transcriptional signature of regulatory T cells.

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Division of Immunology, Department of Microbiology and Immunobiology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA.


The transcription factor Foxp3 participates dominantly in the specification and function of Foxp3(+)CD4(+) regulatory T cells (T(reg) cells) but is neither strictly necessary nor sufficient to determine the characteristic T(reg) cell signature. Here we used computational network inference and experimental testing to assess the contribution of other transcription factors to this. Enforced expression of Helios or Xbp1 elicited distinct signatures, but Eos, IRF4, Satb1, Lef1 and GATA-1 elicited exactly the same outcome, acting in synergy with Foxp3 to activate expression of most of the T(reg) cell signature, including key transcription factors, and enhancing occupancy by Foxp3 at its genomic targets. Conversely, the T(reg) cell signature was robust after inactivation of any single cofactor. A redundant genetic switch thus 'locked in' the T(reg) cell phenotype, a model that would account for several aspects of T(reg) cell physiology, differentiation and stability.

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