TGF-β specifies TFH versus TH17 cell fates in murine CD4+ T cells through c-Maf

Sci Immunol. 2024 Mar;9(93):eadd4818. doi: 10.1126/sciimmunol.add4818. Epub 2024 Mar 1.


T follicular helper (TFH) cells are essential for effective antibody responses, but deciphering the intrinsic wiring of mouse TFH cells has long been hampered by the lack of a reliable protocol for their generation in vitro. We report that transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) induces robust expression of TFH hallmark molecules CXCR5 and Bcl6 in activated mouse CD4+ T cells in vitro. TGF-β-induced mouse CXCR5+ TFH cells are phenotypically, transcriptionally, and functionally similar to in vivo-generated TFH cells and provide critical help to B cells. The study further reveals that TGF-β-induced CXCR5 expression is independent of Bcl6 but requires the transcription factor c-Maf. Classical TGF-β-containing T helper 17 (TH17)-inducing conditions also yield separate CXCR5+ and IL-17A-producing cells, highlighting shared and distinct cell fate trajectories of TFH and TH17 cells. We demonstrate that excess IL-2 in high-density T cell cultures interferes with the TGF-β-induced TFH cell program, that TFH and TH17 cells share a common developmental stage, and that c-Maf acts as a switch factor for TFH versus TH17 cell fates in TGF-β-rich environments in vitro and in vivo.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • B-Lymphocytes
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Mice
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-maf / metabolism
  • T-Lymphocytes, Helper-Inducer*
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta* / metabolism


  • Transforming Growth Factor beta
  • Maf protein, mouse
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-maf