Activated human CD4+ T cells express transporters for both cysteine and cystine

Sci Rep. 2012;2:266. doi: 10.1038/srep00266. Epub 2012 Feb 14.


Because naïve T cells are unable to import cystine due to the absence of cystine transporters, it has been suggested that T cell activation is dependent on cysteine generated by antigen presenting cells. The aim of this study was to determine at which phases during T cell activation exogenous cystine/cysteine is required and how T cells meet this requirement. We found that early activation of T cells is independent of exogenous cystine/cysteine, whereas T cell proliferation is strictly dependent of uptake of exogenous cystine/cysteine. Naïve T cells express no or very low levels of both cystine and cysteine transporters. However, we found that these transporters become strongly up-regulated during T cell activation and provide activated T cells with the required amount of cystine/cysteine needed for T cell proliferation. Thus, T cells are equipped with mechanisms that allow T cell activation and proliferation independently of cysteine generated by antigen presenting cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / metabolism*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Cysteine / metabolism*
  • Cystine / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Lymphocyte Activation*
  • Membrane Transport Proteins / metabolism*
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Up-Regulation


  • Membrane Transport Proteins
  • Cystine
  • Cysteine