Differentiation of effector CD8+ T cells is instructed by stably and dynamically expressed transcription regulators. Here we show that naive-to-effector differentiation was accompanied by dynamic CTCF redistribution and extensive chromatin architectural changes. Upon CD8+ T cell activation, CTCF acquired de novo binding sites and anchored novel chromatin interactions, and these changes were associated with increased chromatin accessibility and elevated expression of cytotoxic program genes including Tbx21, Ifng, and Klrg1. CTCF was also evicted from its ex-binding sites in naive state, with concomitantly reduced chromatin interactions in effector cells, as observed at memory precursor-associated genes including Il7r, Sell, and Tcf7. Genetic ablation of CTCF indeed diminished cytotoxic gene expression, but paradoxically elevated expression of memory precursor genes. Comparative Hi-C analysis revealed that key memory precursor genes were harbored within insulated neighborhoods demarcated by constitutive CTCF binding, and their induction was likely due to disrupted CTCF-dependent insulation. CTCF thus promotes cytotoxic effector differentiation by integrating local chromatin accessibility control and higher-order genomic reorganization.
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