Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Immunology and Microbiology



First Thesis Advisor

Leslie J. Berg


ITK, TCR signal strength, IRF4, NFAT, CD8+ T cells, TCR signaling


TCR signal strength is critical for CD8+ T cell clonal expansion after antigen stimulation. Levels of the transcription factor IRF4 control the magnitude of this process through induction of genes involved in proliferation and glycolytic metabolism. The signaling mechanism connecting graded TCR signaling to the generation of varying amounts of IRF4 is not well understood. Here, using multiple methods to vary TCR signal strength and measure changes in transcriptional activation in single CD8+ T cells, we connect antigen potency to the kinetics of NFAT activation and Irf4 mRNA expression. T cells that transduce weaker TCR signals exhibit a marked delay in Irf4 mRNA induction resulting in decreased overall IRF4 expression in individual cells and increased heterogeneity within the clonal population. The activity of the tyrosine kinase ITK acts as a signaling catalyst that accelerates the rate of the cellular response to TCR stimulation, controlling the time to onset of Irf4 gene transcription. These findings provide insight into the signal transduction pathway accounting for the reduced clonal expansion of low affinity CD8+ T cells following infection. We also describe another context for ITK activity, autoreactive T cell migration. Here, we connect TCR signaling strength to modulation of selectin binding and autoreactive T cell-mediated pathology in an adoptive transfer model system of autoimmune disease. Understanding the signaling mechanisms linking changes in TCR signaling to CD8 T cell function is important in furthering the understanding of vaccine development and T cell adoptive immunotherapy.



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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.