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J Exp Med. 2014 Mar 10;211(3):529-43. doi: 10.1084/jem.20131459. Epub 2014 Feb 17.

Itk-mediated integration of T cell receptor and cytokine signaling regulates the balance between Th17 and regulatory T cells.

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National Human Genome Research Institute, 2 National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, 3 National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, and 4 National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, MD 20892.


A proper balance between Th17 and T regulatory cells (Treg cells) is critical for generating protective immune responses while minimizing autoimmunity. We show that the Tec family kinase Itk (IL2-inducible T cell kinase), a component of T cell receptor (TCR) signaling pathways, influences this balance by regulating cross talk between TCR and cytokine signaling. Under both Th17 and Treg cell differentiation conditions, Itk(-/-) CD4(+) T cells develop higher percentages of functional FoxP3(+) cells, associated with increased sensitivity to IL-2. Itk(-/-) CD4(+) T cells also preferentially develop into Treg cells in vivo. We find that Itk-deficient T cells exhibit reduced TCR-induced phosphorylation of mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) targets, accompanied by downstream metabolic alterations. Surprisingly, Itk(-/-) cells also exhibit reduced IL-2-induced mTOR activation, despite increased STAT5 phosphorylation. We demonstrate that in wild-type CD4(+) T cells, TCR stimulation leads to a dose-dependent repression of Pten. However, at low TCR stimulation or in the absence of Itk, Pten is not effectively repressed, thereby uncoupling STAT5 phosphorylation and phosphoinositide-3-kinase (PI3K) pathways. Moreover, Itk-deficient CD4(+) T cells show impaired TCR-mediated induction of Myc and miR-19b, known repressors of Pten. Our results demonstrate that Itk helps orchestrate positive feedback loops integrating multiple T cell signaling pathways, suggesting Itk as a potential target for altering the balance between Th17 and Treg cells.

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