Foxp3+ regulatory T (Treg) cells restrict immune pathology in inflamed tissues; however, an inflammatory environment presents a threat to Treg cell identity and function. Here, we establish a transcriptional signature of central nervous system (CNS) Treg cells that accumulate during experimental autoimmune encephalitis (EAE) and identify a pathway that maintains Treg cell function and identity during severe inflammation. This pathway is dependent on the transcriptional regulator Blimp1, which prevents downregulation of Foxp3 expression and "toxic" gain-of-function of Treg cells in the inflamed CNS. Blimp1 negatively regulates IL-6- and STAT3-dependent Dnmt3a expression and function restraining methylation of Treg cell-specific conserved non-coding sequence 2 (CNS2) in the Foxp3 locus. Consequently, CNS2 is heavily methylated when Blimp1 is ablated, leading to a loss of Foxp3 expression and severe disease. These findings identify a Blimp1-dependent pathway that preserves Treg cell stability in inflamed non-lymphoid tissues.
Keywords: Blimp1; CNS; CNS2; DNA methyltransferases; Foxp3; Interleukin-6; epigenetic regulation; inflammation; regulatory T cells.
Copyright © 2019 The Author(s). Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.