Three novel acetylation sites in the Foxp3 transcription factor regulate the suppressive activity of regulatory T cells

J Immunol. 2012 Mar 15;188(6):2712-21. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.1100903. Epub 2012 Feb 6.


The Foxp3 transcription factor is the master regulator of regulatory T cell (Treg) differentiation and function. Its activity is regulated by reversible acetylation. Using mass spectrometry of immunoprecipitated proteins, we identify three novel acetylation sites in murine Foxp3 (K31, K262, and K267) and the corresponding sites in human FOXP3 proteins. Newly raised modification-specific Abs against acetylated K31 and K267 confirm acetylation of these residues in murine Tregs. Mutant Foxp3 proteins carrying arginine substitutions at the three acetylation sites (3KR) accumulate in T cells to higher levels than wild-type Foxp3 and exert better suppressive activity in coculture experiments. Acetylation and stability of wild-type, but not mutant, Foxp3 is enhanced when cells are treated with Ex-527, an inhibitor of the NAD(+)-dependent deacetylase SIRT1. Treatment with Ex-527 promotes Foxp3 expression during induced Treg differentiation, enhances Foxp3 levels in natural Tregs, and prevents loss of Foxp3 expression in adoptively transferred Tregs in mice. Our data identify SIRT1 as a negative regulator of Treg function via deacetylation of three novel target sites in Foxp3. SIRT1 inhibitors strengthen the suppressive activity of Tregs and may be useful in enhancing Treg-based therapeutic approaches to autoimmune diseases or graft rejections.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetylation
  • Adoptive Transfer
  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Blotting, Western
  • Cell Differentiation / immunology
  • Forkhead Transcription Factors / chemistry*
  • Forkhead Transcription Factors / genetics*
  • Forkhead Transcription Factors / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immune Tolerance / immunology*
  • Immunoprecipitation
  • Jurkat Cells
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Mice
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • RNA, Messenger / analysis
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / immunology*
  • Transfection


  • FOXP3 protein, human
  • Forkhead Transcription Factors
  • RNA, Messenger