The kinase PDK1 regulates regulatory T cell survival via controlling redox homeostasis

Theranostics. 2021 Sep 13;11(19):9503-9518. doi: 10.7150/thno.63992. eCollection 2021.


Rationale: Regulatory T cells (Treg cells) play an important role in maintaining peripheral tolerance by suppressing over-activation of effector T cells. The kinase PDK1 plays a pivotal role in conventional T cell development. However, whether PDK1 signaling affects the homeostasis and function of Treg cells remains elusive. Methods: In order to evaluate the role of PDK1 in Treg cells from a genetic perspective, mice carrying the floxed PDK1 allele were crossbred with Foxp3 Cre mice to efficiently deleted PDK1 in Foxp3+ Treg cells. Flow cytometry was used to detect the immune cell homeostasis of WT and PDK1fl/flFoxp3Cre mice. RNA-seq was used to assess the differences in transcriptional expression profile of WT and PDK1-deficient Treg cells. The metabolic profiles of WT and PDK1-deficient Treg cells were tested using the Glycolysis Stress Test and Mito Stress Test Kits by the Seahorse XFe96 Analyser. Results: PDK1 was essential for the establishment and maintenance of Treg cell homeostasis and function. Disruption of PDK1 in Treg cells led to a spontaneous fatal systemic autoimmune disorder and multi-tissue inflammatory damage, accompanied by a reduction in the number and function of Treg cells. The deletion of PDK1 in Treg cells destroyed the iron ion balance through regulating MEK-ERK signaling and CD71 expression, resulting in excessive production of intracellular ROS, which did not depend on the down-regulation of mTORC1 signaling. Inhibition of excessive ROS, activated MEK-Erk signaling or overload Fe2+ could partially rescue the survival of PDK1-deficient Treg cells. Conclusion: Our results defined a key finding on the mechanism by which PDK1 regulates Treg cell survival via controlling redox homeostasis.

Keywords: Immune cell death; Iron homeostasis; MAPK; PDK1; ROS; Treg cell.