Epigenetic signature and key transcriptional regulators of human antigen-specific type 1 regulatory T cells

bioRxiv [Preprint]. 2024 Mar 12:2024.03.07.582969. doi: 10.1101/2024.03.07.582969.


Human adaptive immunity is orchestrated by effector and regulatory T (Treg) cells. Natural Tregs arise in the thymus where they are shaped to recognize self-antigens, while type 1 Tregs or Tr1 cells are induced from conventional peripheral CD4 + T cells in response to peripheral antigens, such as alloantigens and allergens. Tr1 cells have been developed as a potential therapy for inducing antigen-specific tolerance, because they can be rapidly differentiated in vitro in response to a target antigen. However, the epigenetic landscape and the identity of transcription factors (TFs) that regulate differentiation, phenotype, and functions of human antigen-specific Tr1 cells is largely unknown, hindering Tr1 research and broader clinical development. Here, we reveal the unique epigenetic signature of antigen-specific Tr1 cells, and TFs that regulate their differentiation, phenotype and function. We showed that in vitro induced antigen-specific Tr1 cells are distinct both clonally and transcriptionally from natural Tregs and other conventional CD4 + T cells on a single-cell level. An integrative analysis of Tr1 cell epigenome and transcriptome identified a TF signature unique to antigen-specific Tr1 cells, and predicted that IRF4, BATF, and MAF act as their transcriptional regulators. Using functional genomics, we showed that each of these TFs play a non-redundant role in regulating Tr1 cell differentiation, suppressive function, and expression of co-inhibitory and cytotoxic proteins. By using the Tr1-specific TF signature as a molecular fingerprint, we tracked Tr1 cells in peripheral blood of recipients of allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation treated with adoptive Tr1 cell therapy. Furthermore, the same signature identified Tr1 cells in resident CD4 + T cells in solid tumors. Altogether, these results reveal the epigenetic signature and the key transcriptional regulators of human Tr1 cells. These data will guide mechanistic studies of human Tr1 cell biology and the development and optimization of adoptive Tr1 cell therapies.

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