Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program

Immunology and Microbiology



First Thesis Advisor

Leslie J. Berg, PhD


Interferon Regulatory Factors, CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes, Cell Differentiation, Lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus, T Cell Transcription Factor 1


Dissertations, UMMS; Interferon Regulatory Factors; CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes; Cell Differentiation; Lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus; T Cell Transcription Factor 1


CD8+ T cell differentiation is a complex process that requires integration of signals from the TCR, co-stimulatory molecules and cytokines. Ligation of the peptide-MHC complex with the cognate TCR initiates a downstream signaling cascade of which the IL-2 inducible T-cell kinase (ITK) is a key component. Loss of ITK results in a measured reduction in T cell activation. Consequently, Itk deficient mice have defects in thymic selection, CD8+ T cell expansion and differentiation in response to virus infections, and generate a unique population of innate-like CD8+ T cells. The mechanisms that translate TCR and ITK-derived signals into distinct gene transcription programs that regulate CD8+ T cell differentiation are not defined. Our microarray screen identified IRF4 as a potential transcription factor mediating the differentiation of innate-like T cells, and antiviral CD8+ T cell in response to acute and chronic LCMV infections.

Innate-like CD8+ T cells are characterized by their high expression of CD44, CD122, CXCR3, and the transcription factor Eomesodermin (Eomes). One component of this altered development is a non-CD8+ T cell-intrinsic role for IL-4. We show that IRF4 expression is induced upon TCR signaling and is dependent on ITK activity. In contrast to WT cells, activation of IRF4-deficient CD8+ T cells leads to rapid and robust expression of Eomes, which is further enhanced by IL-4 stimulation. These data indicate that ITK signaling promotes IRF4 up-regulation following CD8+ T cell activation and that this signaling xii pathway normally suppresses Eomes expression, thereby regulating the differentiation pathway of CD8+ T cells.

ITK deficient mice also have reduced expansion of CD8+ T cells in response to acute LCMV infections. We show that IRF4 is transiently upregulated to differing levels in murine CD8+ T cells, based on the strength of TCR signaling. In turn, IRF4 controls the magnitude of the CD8+ T cell response to acute virus infection in a dose-dependent manner. Furthermore, the expression of key transcription factors such as T cell factor 1 and Eomesodermin are highly sensitive to graded levels of IRF4. In contrast, T-bet expression is less dependent on IRF4 levels and is influenced by the nature of the infection. These data indicate that IRF4 is a key component that translates the strength of TCR signaling into a graded response of virus-specific CD8+ T cells.

The data from these studies indicated a pivotal role of IRF4 in regulating the expression of T-bet and Eomes. During persistent LCMV infections, CD8+ T cells differentiate into T-bethi and Eomeshi subsets, both of which are required for efficient viral control. We show that TCR signal strength regulates the relative expression of T-bet and Eomes in antigen-specific CD8+ T cells by modulating levels of IRF4. Reduced IRF4 expression results in skewing of this ratio in favor of Eomes, leading to lower proportions and numbers of T-bet+ Eomes- precursors and poor control of LCMV Clone 13 infection. Altering this ratio in favor of T-bet xiii restores the differentiation of T-bet+ Eomes- precursors and the protective balance of T-bet to Eomes required for efficient viral control. These data highlight a critical role for IRF4 in regulating protective anti-viral CD8+ T cell responses by ensuring a balanced ratio of T-bet to Eomes, leading to the ultimate control of this chronic viral infection.



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