Metabolic control of regulatory T cell (Treg) survival and function by Lkb1

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2017 Nov 21;114(47):12542-12547. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1715363114. Epub 2017 Nov 6.


The metabolic programs of functionally distinct T cell subsets are tailored to their immunologic activities. While quiescent T cells use oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS) for energy production, and effector T cells (Teffs) rely on glycolysis for proliferation, the distinct metabolic features of regulatory T cells (Tregs) are less well established. Here we show that the metabolic sensor LKB1 is critical to maintain cellular metabolism and energy homeostasis in Tregs. Treg-specific deletion of Lkb1 in mice causes loss of Treg number and function, leading to a fatal, early-onset autoimmune disorder. Tregs lacking Lkb1 have defective mitochondria, compromised OXPHOS, depleted cellular ATP, and altered cellular metabolism pathways that compromise their survival and function. Furthermore, we demonstrate that the function of LKB1 in Tregs is largely independent of the AMP-activated protein kinase, but is mediated by the MAP/microtubule affinity-regulating kinases and salt-inducible kinases. Our results define a metabolic checkpoint in Tregs that couples metabolic regulation to immune homeostasis and tolerance.

Keywords: Foxp3; Lkb1; Treg; autoimmune disease; cellular metabolism.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • AMP-Activated Protein Kinases / genetics
  • AMP-Activated Protein Kinases / immunology
  • Animals
  • Autoimmune Diseases / genetics
  • Autoimmune Diseases / immunology*
  • Autoimmune Diseases / metabolism
  • Autoimmune Diseases / pathology
  • CD4 Lymphocyte Count
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cell Survival
  • Energy Metabolism / genetics
  • Energy Metabolism / immunology*
  • Gene Expression Regulation / immunology
  • Homeostasis / immunology*
  • Immune Tolerance*
  • Lymph Nodes / immunology
  • Lymph Nodes / metabolism
  • Lymph Nodes / pathology
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Mitochondria / immunology
  • Mitochondria / pathology
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases / deficiency
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases / genetics
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases / immunology*
  • Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / genetics
  • Protein-Tyrosine Kinases / immunology
  • Signal Transduction
  • Spleen / immunology
  • Spleen / metabolism
  • Spleen / pathology
  • T-Lymphocytes, Cytotoxic / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes, Cytotoxic / metabolism
  • T-Lymphocytes, Cytotoxic / pathology
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / metabolism
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / pathology


  • Stk11 protein, mouse
  • Protein-Tyrosine Kinases
  • Ptk6 protein, mouse
  • Protein-Serine-Threonine Kinases
  • AMP-Activated Protein Kinases