T follicular helper cells in human efferent lymph retain lymphoid characteristics

J Clin Invest. 2019 Jul 2;129(8):3185-3200. doi: 10.1172/JCI125628.


T follicular helper cells (Tfh), a subset of CD4+ T cells, provide requisite help to B cells in the germinal centers (GC) of lymphoid tissue. GC Tfh are identified by high expression of the chemokine receptor CXCR5 and the inhibitory molecule PD-1. Although more accessible, blood contains lower frequencies of CXCR5+ and PD-1+ cells that have been termed circulating Tfh (cTfh). However, it remains unclear whether GC Tfh exit lymphoid tissues and populate this cTfh pool. To examine exiting cells, we assessed the phenotype of Tfh present within the major conduit of efferent lymph from lymphoid tissues into blood, the human thoracic duct. Unlike what was found in blood, we consistently identified a CXCR5-bright PD-1-bright (CXCR5BrPD-1Br) Tfh population in thoracic duct lymph (TDL). These CXCR5BrPD-1Br TDL Tfh shared phenotypic and transcriptional similarities with GC Tfh. Moreover, components of the epigenetic profile of GC Tfh could be detected in CXCR5BrPD-1Br TDL Tfh and the transcriptional imprint of this epigenetic signature was enriched in an activated cTfh subset known to contain vaccine-responding cells. Together with data showing shared TCR sequences between the CXCR5BrPD-1Br TDL Tfh and cTfh, these studies identify a population in TDL as a circulatory intermediate connecting the biology of Tfh in blood to Tfh in lymphoid tissue.

Keywords: Immunology; T cells.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lymph Nodes / cytology
  • Lymph Nodes / immunology*
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Male
  • Programmed Cell Death 1 Receptor / immunology
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell / immunology
  • Receptors, CXCR5 / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes, Helper-Inducer / cytology
  • T-Lymphocytes, Helper-Inducer / immunology*
  • Thoracic Duct / cytology
  • Thoracic Duct / immunology*


  • CXCR5 protein, human
  • PDCD1 protein, human
  • Programmed Cell Death 1 Receptor
  • Receptors, Antigen, T-Cell
  • Receptors, CXCR5