Transcriptional regulation of follicular T-helper (Tfh) cells

Immunol Rev. 2013 Mar;252(1):139-45. doi: 10.1111/imr.12040.


T-follicular helper (Tfh) cells are a new subset of effector CD4(+) T cells that are specialized in helping B cells in the germinal center reaction. Tfh cells are distinct from other established CD4(+) T-cell lineages, Th1, Th2, Th17, and T-regulatory cells, in their gene expression profiles. Tfh cell differentiation results from a network of transcriptional regulation by a master transcriptional factor Bcl6 as well as IRF4, c-Maf, Batf, and STAT3/5. During Tfh cell ontogeny, increased CXCR5 expression directs activated T-cell migration to the follicles, and their interaction with B cells leads to Bcl6 upregulation, which helps establish effector and memory Tfh cell program. This review summarizes the recent progress in molecular mechanisms underlying Tfh differentiation and discusses the future perspectives for this important area of research.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • B-Lymphocytes / cytology
  • B-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • Basic-Leucine Zipper Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Basic-Leucine Zipper Transcription Factors / immunology
  • Cell Lineage / immunology
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • DNA-Binding Proteins / immunology*
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Germinal Center / cytology
  • Germinal Center / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Interferon Regulatory Factors / genetics
  • Interferon Regulatory Factors / immunology
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-6
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-maf / genetics
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-maf / immunology
  • Receptors, CXCR5 / genetics
  • Receptors, CXCR5 / immunology
  • STAT Transcription Factors / genetics
  • STAT Transcription Factors / immunology
  • Signal Transduction
  • T-Lymphocytes, Helper-Inducer / cytology
  • T-Lymphocytes, Helper-Inducer / immunology*
  • Transcription, Genetic*


  • BATF protein, human
  • BCL6 protein, human
  • Basic-Leucine Zipper Transcription Factors
  • CXCR5 protein, human
  • DNA-Binding Proteins
  • Interferon Regulatory Factors
  • MAF protein, human
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-bcl-6
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-maf
  • Receptors, CXCR5
  • STAT Transcription Factors
  • interferon regulatory factor-4