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J Immunol. 2019 Jun 1;202(11):3211-3225. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.1801464. Epub 2019 Apr 29.

Critical Role for TCR Signal Strength and MHC Specificity in ThPOK-Induced CD4 Helper Lineage Choice.

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Département d'Immunologie-Oncologie, Centre de Recherche Hôpital Maisonneuve-Rosemont, Montreal, Quebec H1T 2M4, Canada.
Département de Microbiologie, Immunologie et Infectiologie, Université de Montréal, Montreal, Quebec H3C 3J7, Canada; and.
Department of Medicine, University of Montreal, Montreal, Quebec H3C 3J7, Canada.
Département d'Immunologie-Oncologie, Centre de Recherche Hôpital Maisonneuve-Rosemont, Montreal, Quebec H1T 2M4, Canada;


Sustained TCR signaling is critical for ThPOK induction in MHC class II (MHCII)-signaled thymocytes leading to the CD4 helper lineage commitment. ThPOK suppresses the cytotoxic program in the signaled thymocytes and is shown to be necessary and sufficient for the CD4 helper lineage choice. Accordingly, loss and gain of ThPOK function redirects MHCII- and MHC class I (MHCI)-signaled thymocytes into the CD8 cytotoxic and CD4 helper lineage, respectively. However, the impact of a defined ThPOK level on the CD4 helper lineage choice of MHCII- and MHCI-specific thymocytes and the role of TCR signaling in this process is not evaluated. Equally, it is not clear if suppression of the cytotoxic program by ThPOK is sufficient in redirecting MHCI-restricted thymocytes into the CD4 helper lineage. In this study, we have investigated CD8 to CD4 helper lineage redirection in three independent ThPOK overexpressing transgenic mouse lines. Our analysis shows that one of the transgenic lines, despite overexpressing ThPOK compared with wild-type CD4 mature T cells and compromising cytotoxic program, failed to redirect all MHCI-signaled thymocytes into the CD4 helper lineage, resulting in the continued presence of CD8+ mature T cells and the generation of a large number of double negative mature T cells. Critically, the same ThPOK transgene completely restored the CD4 helper lineage commitment of MHCII-specific Thpok -/- thymocytes. Importantly, augmenting TCR signaling significantly enhanced the ThPOK-mediated CD4 helper lineage choice of MHCI-specific thymocytes but was still substantially less efficient than that of MHCII-specific thymocytes expressing the same amount of ThPOK. Together, these data suggest that the ThPOK-induced CD4 helper lineage commitment is strongly influenced by TCR signal strength and MHC specificity of developing thymocytes.


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