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PLoS One. 2014 May 2;9(5):e96401. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0096401. eCollection 2014.

Protein kinase C θ regulates the phenotype of murine CD4+ Th17 cells.

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Translational Cell Genetics, Department of Pharmacology and Genetics, Medical University of Innsbruck, Innsbruck, Austria.


Protein kinase C θ (PKCθ) is involved in signaling downstream of the T cell antigen receptor (TCR) and is important for shaping effector T cell functions and inflammatory disease development. Acquisition of Th1-like effector features by Th17 cells has been linked to increased pathogenic potential. However, the molecular mechanisms underlying Th17/Th1 phenotypic instability remain largely unknown. In the current study, we address the role of PKCθ in differentiation and function of Th17 cells by using genetic knock-out mice. Implementing in vitro (polarizing T cell cultures) and in vivo (experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis model, EAE) techniques, we demonstrated that PKCθ-deficient CD4+ T cells show normal Th17 marker gene expression (interleukin 17A/F, RORγt), accompanied by enhanced production of the Th1-typical markers such as interferon gamma (IFN-γ) and transcription factor T-bet. Mechanistically, this phenotype was linked to aberrantly elevated Stat4 mRNA levels in PKCθ-/- CD4+ T cells during the priming phase of Th17 differentiation. In contrast, transcription of the Stat4 gene was suppressed in Th17-primed wild-type cells. This change in cellular effector phenotype was reflected in vivo by prolonged neurological impairment of PKCθ-deficient mice during the course of EAE. Taken together, our data provide genetic evidence that PKCθ is critical for stabilizing Th17 cell phenotype by selective suppression of the STAT4/IFN-γ/T-bet axis at the onset of differentiation.

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