Early TCR Signaling Induces Rapid Aerobic Glycolysis Enabling Distinct Acute T Cell Effector Functions

Cell Rep. 2018 Feb 6;22(6):1509-1521. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2018.01.040.


To fulfill bioenergetic demands of activation, T cells perform aerobic glycolysis, a process common to highly proliferative cells in which glucose is fermented into lactate rather than oxidized in mitochondria. However, the signaling events that initiate aerobic glycolysis in T cells remain unclear. We show T cell activation rapidly induces glycolysis independent of transcription, translation, CD28, and Akt and not involving increased glucose uptake or activity of glycolytic enzymes. Rather, TCR signaling promotes activation of pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase 1 (PDHK1), inhibiting mitochondrial import of pyruvate and facilitating breakdown into lactate. Inhibition of PDHK1 reveals this switch is required acutely for cytokine synthesis but dispensable for cytotoxicity. Functionally, cytokine synthesis is modulated via lactate dehydrogenase, which represses cytokine mRNA translation when aerobic glycolysis is disengaged. Our data provide mechanistic insight to metabolic contribution to effector T cell function and suggest that T cell function may be finely tuned through modulation of glycolytic activity.

Keywords: LDH; PDHK1; T cell; TCR; cytokine; glucose; glycolysis; immunometabolism.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Glycolysis / immunology*
  • Lymphocyte Activation / immunology*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases / immunology
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism
  • Pyruvate Dehydrogenase Acetyl-Transferring Kinase
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell / immunology
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell / metabolism*
  • Signal Transduction / immunology


  • Pyruvate Dehydrogenase Acetyl-Transferring Kinase
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell
  • Protein Serine-Threonine Kinases