Interleukin-21 (IL-21) is a pleiotropic cytokine that induces expression of transcription factor BLIMP1 (encoded by Prdm1), which regulates plasma cell differentiation and T cell homeostasis. We identified an IL-21 response element downstream of Prdm1 that binds the transcription factors STAT3 and IRF4, which are required for optimal Prdm1 expression. Genome-wide ChIP-Seq mapping of STAT3- and IRF4-binding sites showed that most regions with IL-21-induced STAT3 binding also bound IRF4 in vivo and furthermore revealed that the noncanonical TTCnnnTAA GAS motif critical in Prdm1 was broadly used for STAT3 binding. Comparing genome-wide expression array data to binding sites revealed that most IL-21-regulated genes were associated with combined STAT3-IRF4 sites rather than pure STAT3 sites. Correspondingly, ChIP-Seq analysis of Irf4(-/-) T cells showed greatly diminished STAT3 binding after IL-21 treatment, and Irf4(-/-) mice showed impaired IL-21-induced Tfh cell differentiation in vivo. These results reveal broad cooperative gene regulation by STAT3 and IRF4.
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