UMMS Affiliation

Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences; Program in Immunology and Virology

Document Type

Dissertation, Doctoral


Self Tolerance; Forkhead Transcription Factors; Autoimmunity; T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory; Homeostasis; Adaptor Proteins, Signal Transducing; Academic Dissertations; Dissertations, UMMS


Life Sciences | Medicine and Health Sciences


Adaptive immunity requires T cell responses to foreign pathogens to be counterbalanced with the need to limit collateral destruction of the host’s own tissues. Further, the presence of a substantial pool of lymphocytes capable of recognizing selfantigen in the periphery poses a threat to the maintenance of peripheral tolerance and prevention of autoimmunity. Regulatory T cells (Treg) that can suppress potentially self-reactive T cells are critical regulators of peripheral tolerance as well as initiation of immune responses. Treg cells employ several context-dependent mechanisms to establish regulation. In this thesis, we describe two distinct pathways of regulation used by Treg cells involving negative costimulation by CTLA-4 and immunomodulation by the morphogen, TGFβ.

CTLA-4 is a co-inhibitory receptor on T cells essential for maintaining T cell homeostasis and tolerance to self. CTLA-4 expression is induced in conventional T cells following activation, whereas it is constitutively expressed in regulatory FOXP3+CD4+ regulatory T cells. Mice lacking CTLA-4 develop an early onset, fatal breakdown in T cell tolerance. Whether this autoimmune disease occurs because of the loss of CTLA-4 function in regulatory T cells, conventional T cells, or both, is not known. We present evidence here that in addition to a critical CTLA-4 function in regulatory T cells, CTLA-4 in conventional T cells is also necessary for controlling the consequences of abnormal T cell activation. CTLA-4 expression in activated conventional T cells only in vivo is unable to compensate for the impaired function of CTLA-4-less regulatory T cells that results in systemic lymphoproliferation, but it can prevent the aberrantly activated T cells from infiltrating and fatally damaging non-lymphoid tissues. These results demonstrate that CTLA-4 has a dual function in maintaining T cell homeostasis: CTLA-4 in regulatory T cells inhibits inappropriate naïve T cell activation and CTLA-4 in conventional T cells can prevent the harmful accumulation of inappropriately activated pathogenic T cells in vital organs.

In addition, we have identified Disabled-2 (Dab2), a TGFβ signaling intermediate, as a FOXP3 target gene that is expressed exclusively in Treg cells and is critical for in vitro and in vivo regulation by Treg cells. During T cell development, DAB2 is also expressed in a Foxp3-independent manner in thymic precursor cells, and acts as a sensor of TGFβ signals that is required for programming normal TGFβ responsiveness in T cell progenies. Naïve CD4+ T cells that differentiate from Dab2-deficient precursors favor Th17 cell generation at the expense of FOXP3+ Treg cells as a result of altered sensitivity to TGFβ. Importantly, retinoic acid can restore TGFβ signaling capacity of naïve CD4+ T cells generated from Dab2-deficient precursors, emphasizing the cooperative nature of retinoic acid and TGFβ signaling pathways in promoting Treg cell development and maintenance.