Suppression of T Cell Autophagy Results in Decreased Viability and Function of T Cells Through Accelerated Apoptosis in a Murine Sepsis Model

Crit Care Med. 2017 Jan;45(1):e77-e85. doi: 10.1097/CCM.0000000000002016.


Objective: While type 1 programmed cell death (apoptosis) of T cells leads to immunosuppression in sepsis, a crosstalk between apoptosis and autophagy (type 2 programmed cell death) has not been shown. The aim of this study is to elucidate the details of the interaction between autophagy and immunosuppression.

Design: Laboratory investigation in the murine sepsis model.

Setting: University laboratory.

Subjects: Six- to 8-week-old male mice.

Interventions: We investigated the kinetics of autophagy in T cells from spleen in a cecal ligation and puncture model with green fluorescent protein-microtubule-associated protein light chain 3 transgenic mice. We analyzed apoptosis, mitochondrial homeostasis and cytokine production in T cells, and survival rate after cecal ligation and puncture using T cell-specific autophagy-deficient mice.

Measurements and main results: We observed an increase of autophagosomes, which was assessed by flow cytometry. However, an autophagy process in CD4 T cells during sepsis was insufficient including the accumulation of p62. On the other hand, a blockade of autophagy accelerated T cell apoptosis compared with the control mice, augmenting the gene expression of Bcl-2-like 11 and programmed cell death 1. Furthermore, mitochondrial accumulation in T cells occurred via a blockade of autophagy during sepsis. In addition, interleukin-10 production in CD4 T cells from the cecal ligation and puncture-operated knockout mice was markedly increased. Consequently, deficiency of autophagy in T cells significantly decreased the survival rate in the murine sepsis model.

Conclusions: We demonstrated that blocking autophagy accelerated apoptosis and increased mortality in concordance with the insufficient autophagy process in CD4 T cells in the murine sepsis model, suggesting that T cell autophagy plays a protective role against apoptosis and immunosuppression in sepsis.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis*
  • Autophagy / immunology*
  • B7-H1 Antigen / metabolism
  • Bcl-2-Like Protein 11 / metabolism
  • Cecum / surgery
  • Cell Survival
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Interleukin-10 / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Sepsis / immunology*
  • Sepsis / mortality
  • Spleen / cytology
  • T-Lymphocytes / cytology
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology


  • B7-H1 Antigen
  • Bcl-2-Like Protein 11
  • Cd274 protein, mouse
  • Interleukin-10