BATF epigenetically and transcriptionally controls the activation program of regulatory T cells in human tumors

Sci Immunol. 2022 Oct 14;7(76):eabk0957. doi: 10.1126/sciimmunol.abk0957. Epub 2022 Oct 7.


Regulatory T (Treg) cells suppress effective antitumor immunity in tumor-bearing hosts, thereby becoming promising targets in cancer immunotherapy. Despite the importance of Treg cells in tumor immunity, little is known about their differentiation process and epigenetic profiles in the tumor microenvironment (TME). Here, we showed that Treg cells in the TME of human lung cancers harbored a completely different open chromatin profile compared with CD8+ T cells, conventional CD4+ T cells in the TME, and peripheral Treg cells. The integrative sequencing analyses including ATAC, single-cell RNA, and single-cell ATAC sequencing revealed that BATF, IRF4, NF-κB, and NR4A were important transcription factors for Treg cell differentiation in the TME. In particular, BATF was identified as a key regulator, which leveraged Treg cell differentiation through epigenetically controlling activation-associated gene expression, resulting in the robustness of Treg cells in the TME. The single-cell sequencing approaches also revealed that tissue-resident and tumor-infiltrating Treg cells followed a common pathway for differentiation and activation in a BATF-dependent manner heading toward Treg cells with the most differentiated and activated phenotypes in tissues and tumors. BATF deficiency in Treg cells remarkably inhibited tumor growth, and high BATF expression was associated with poor prognosis in lung cancer, kidney cancer, and melanoma. These findings indicate one of the specific chromatin remodeling and differentiation programs of Treg cells in the TME, which can be applied in the development of Treg cell-targeted therapies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Basic-Leucine Zipper Transcription Factors / genetics
  • Basic-Leucine Zipper Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes
  • Chromatin / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Melanoma*
  • NF-kappa B / genetics
  • NF-kappa B / metabolism
  • RNA
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory*
  • Tumor Microenvironment


  • BATF protein, human
  • Basic-Leucine Zipper Transcription Factors
  • Chromatin
  • NF-kappa B
  • RNA