Mitochondrial complex III is essential for suppressive function of regulatory T cells

Nature. 2019 Jan;565(7740):495-499. doi: 10.1038/s41586-018-0846-z. Epub 2019 Jan 9.


Regulatory T cells (Treg cells), a distinct subset of CD4+ T cells, are necessary for the maintenance of immune self-tolerance and homeostasis1,2. Recent studies have demonstrated that Treg cells exhibit a unique metabolic profile, characterized by an increase in mitochondrial metabolism relative to other CD4+ effector subsets3,4. Furthermore, the Treg cell lineage-defining transcription factor, Foxp3, has been shown to promote respiration5,6; however, it remains unknown whether the mitochondrial respiratory chain is required for the T cell-suppression capacity, stability and survival of Treg cells. Here we report that Treg cell-specific ablation of mitochondrial respiratory chain complex III in mice results in the development of fatal inflammatory disease early in life, without affecting Treg cell number. Mice that lack mitochondrial complex III specifically in Treg cells displayed a loss of T cell-suppression capacity without altering Treg cell proliferation and survival. Treg cells deficient in complex III showed decreased expression of genes associated with Treg function, whereas Foxp3 expression remained stable. Loss of complex III in Treg cells increased DNA methylation as well as the metabolites 2-hydroxyglutarate (2-HG) and succinate that inhibit the ten-eleven translocation (TET) family of DNA demethylases7. Thus, Treg cells require mitochondrial complex III to maintain immune regulatory gene expression and suppressive function.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • DNA Demethylation
  • DNA Methylation
  • Electron Transport
  • Electron Transport Complex III / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Forkhead Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Glutarates / metabolism
  • Inflammation / genetics
  • Inflammation / immunology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mitochondria / enzymology*
  • Mitochondria / metabolism
  • Self Tolerance / genetics
  • Self Tolerance / immunology*
  • Succinic Acid / metabolism
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / cytology
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / enzymology
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / metabolism*


  • Forkhead Transcription Factors
  • Foxp3 protein, mouse
  • Glutarates
  • alpha-hydroxyglutarate
  • Succinic Acid
  • Electron Transport Complex III