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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2018 Feb 27;115(9):2162-2167. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1720447115. Epub 2018 Feb 9.

Comparative transcriptome analysis reveals distinct genetic modules associated with Helios expression in intratumoral regulatory T cells.

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Department of Pediatric Oncology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, MA 02115.
Department of Cancer Immunology and Virology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, MA 02115.
Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Cambridge, MA 02139.
Department of Cancer Immunology and Virology, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, MA 02115;
Division of Immunology, Department of Microbiology and Immunobiology, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115.


Regulatory T cells (Tregs) are key modulators of immune tolerance, capable of suppressing inflammatory immune responses and promoting nonlymphoid tissue homeostasis. Helios, a transcription factor (TF) that is selectively expressed by Tregs, has been shown to be essential for the maintenance of Treg lineage stability in the face of inflammatory conditions that include autoimmune disease and cancer. Helios-deficient Tregs within tumors acquire effector T cell function and contribute to immune responses against cancer. However, the underlying genetic basis of this Treg reprogramming is not well understood. Here, we report that Helios-deficient Tregs within the chronic inflammatory tumor microenvironment (TME) derepress genetic programs associated with T helper (Th) cell differentiation by up-regulating Th cell-associated TFs and effector cytokines. These genetic changes of Helios-deficient Tregs are most apparent in a Treg subpopulation with high affinity for self-antigens, as detected by both increased GITR/PD-1 expression and increased responsiveness to self-antigens. Their combined effects may promote a phenotype conversion of Tregs into effector T cells within the TME, where TCR engagement and costimulatory receptor expression by Tregs are increased. These data provide a genetic basis for the unstable phenotype of Helios-deficient Tregs within the inflammatory environment of tumors and suggest that immune milieu-dependent alterations in gene expression are a central feature of Treg conversion.


Treg; transcriptome; tumor microenvironment

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