Transcription factors act in concert to induce lineage commitment towards Th1, Th2, or T regulatory (Treg) cells, and their counter-regulatory mechanisms were shown to be critical for polarization between Th1 and Th2 phenotypes. FOXP3 is an essential transcription factor for natural, thymus-derived (nTreg) and inducible Treg (iTreg) commitment; however, the mechanisms regulating its expression are as yet unknown. We describe a mechanism controlling iTreg polarization, which is overruled by the Th2 differentiation pathway. We demonstrated that interleukin 4 (IL-4) present at the time of T cell priming inhibits FOXP3. This inhibitory mechanism was also confirmed in Th2 cells and in T cells of transgenic mice overexpressing GATA-3 in T cells, which are shown to be deficient in transforming growth factor (TGF)-β–mediated FOXP3 induction. This inhibition is mediated by direct binding of GATA3 to the FOXP3 promoter, which represses its transactivation process. Therefore, this study provides a new understanding of tolerance development, controlled by a type 2 immune response. IL-4 treatment in mice reduces iTreg cell frequency, highlighting that therapeutic approaches that target IL-4 or GATA3 might provide new preventive strategies facilitating tolerance induction particularly in Th2-mediated diseases, such as allergy.
Specific immune responses against foreign or autologous antigens are driven by specialized epitope-specific T cells, whose numbers expand upon recognition of antigen found on professional antigen-presenting cells. The subsequent maturation process involves the differentiation of certain T cell phenotypes such as pro-inflammatory cells (Th1, Th2, Th17) or regulatory T (Treg) cells, which serve to keep the immune response in check. The current study focuses on the role of two key transcription factors—FOXP3 and GATA3—in controlling the commitment of these cells. We demonstrate that the Th2 cytokine IL-4 inhibits the induction of FOXP3 and thus inhibits the generation of inducible Treg cells. We show that IL-4–induced GATA3 mediates FOXP3 inhibition by directly binding to a GATA element in the FOXP3 promoter. We hypothesize that therapeutic agents aimed at neutralizing IL-4 could be a novel strategy to facilitate inducible Treg cell generation and thus promotion of tolerance in allergies and other Th2-dominated diseases.
It is shown that Th2 responses prevent the generation of inducible Tregs. This is mediated by IL-4 induction of GATA3, which binds directly to and represses the FOXP3 promoter. This mechanism is likely to be relevant in the induction of immunotolerance, particularly in allergic diseases.