Signals of pseudo-starvation unveil the amino acid transporter SLC7A11 as key determinant in the control of Treg cell proliferative potential

Immunity. 2021 Jul 13;54(7):1543-1560.e6. doi: 10.1016/j.immuni.2021.04.014. Epub 2021 May 17.


Human CD4+CD25hiFOXP3+ regulatory T (Treg) cells are key players in the control of immunological self-tolerance and homeostasis. Here, we report that signals of pseudo-starvation reversed human Treg cell in vitro anergy through an integrated transcriptional response, pertaining to proliferation, metabolism, and transmembrane solute carrier transport. At the molecular level, the Treg cell proliferative response was dependent on the induction of the cystine/glutamate antiporter solute carrier (SLC)7A11, whose expression was controlled by the nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor 2 (NRF2). SLC7A11 induction in Treg cells was impaired in subjects with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS), an autoimmune disorder associated with reduced Treg cell proliferative capacity. Treatment of RRMS subjects with dimethyl fumarate (DMF) rescued SLC7A11 induction and fully recovered Treg cell expansion. These results suggest a previously unrecognized mechanism that may account for the progressive loss of Treg cells in autoimmunity and unveil SLC7A11 as major target for the rescue of Treg cell proliferation.

Keywords: SLC7A11; Treg cells; autoimmunity; dimethyl fumarate; leptin; metabolism; multiple sclerosis; proliferation; starvation; xCT.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amino Acid Transport System y+ / immunology*
  • Autoimmunity / immunology
  • Cell Proliferation / physiology*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Female
  • Homeostasis / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immune Tolerance / immunology
  • Male
  • Multiple Sclerosis, Relapsing-Remitting / immunology
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2 / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / immunology*


  • Amino Acid Transport System y+
  • NF-E2-Related Factor 2
  • SLC7A11 protein, human