T follicular helper cells (Tfh) are crucial for the initiation and maintenance of germinal center (GC) reactions and high affinity, isotype-switched antibody responses. In this study, we demonstrate that direct TGF-β signaling to CD4 T cells is important for the formation of influenza-specific Tfh cells, GC reactions, and development of isotype-switched, flu-specific antibody responses. Early during infection, TGF-β signaling suppressed the expression of the high affinity IL-2 receptor α chain (CD25) on virus-specific CD4 T cells, which tempered IL-2 signaling and STAT5 and mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR) activation in Tfh precursor CD4 T cells. Inhibition of mTOR allowed for the differentiation of Tfh cells in the absence of TGF-βR signaling, suggesting that TGF-β insulates Tfh progenitor cells from IL-2-delivered mTOR signals, thereby promoting Tfh differentiation during acute viral infection. These findings identify a new pathway critical for the generation of Tfh cells and humoral responses during respiratory viral infections.
Keywords: T follicular helper cells; TGF-beta; antibody; cytokines; immunology; mouse; viral infection.