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Immunity. 2013 Jun 27;38(6):1116-28. doi: 10.1016/j.immuni.2013.02.022. Epub 2013 Jun 6.

Foxp3 transcription factor is proapoptotic and lethal to developing regulatory T cells unless counterbalanced by cytokine survival signals.

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Experimental Immunology Branch, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892, USA.


Immune tolerance requires regulatory T (Treg) cells to prevent autoimmune disease, with the transcription factor Foxp3 functioning as the critical regulator of Treg cell development and function. We report here that Foxp3 was lethal to developing Treg cells in the thymus because it induced a unique proapoptotic protein signature (Puma⁺⁺⁺p-Bim⁺⁺p-JNK⁺⁺DUSP6⁻) and repressed expression of prosurvival Bcl-2 molecules. However, Foxp3 lethality was prevented by common gamma chain (γc)-dependent cytokine signals that were present in the thymus in limiting amounts sufficient to support only ∼1 million Treg cells. Consequently, most newly arising Treg cells in the thymus were deprived of this signal and underwent Foxp3-induced death, with Foxp3⁺CD25⁻ Treg precursor cells being the most susceptible. Thus, we identify Foxp3 as a proapoptotic protein that requires developing Treg cells to compete with one another for limiting amounts of γc-dependent survival signals in the thymus.

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