Research ArticleIMMUNOLOGY

Functional definition of a transcription factor hierarchy regulating T cell lineage commitment

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Science Advances  31 Jul 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 31, eaaw7313
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aaw7313


T cell factor 1 (Tcf1) is the first T cell–specific protein induced by Notch signaling in the thymus, leading to the activation of two major target genes, Gata3 and Bcl11b. Tcf1 deficiency results in partial arrests in T cell development, high apoptosis, and increased development of B and myeloid cells. Phenotypically, seemingly fully T cell–committed thymocytes with Tcf1 deficiency have promiscuous gene expression and an altered epigenetic profile and can dedifferentiate into more immature thymocytes and non-T cells. Restoring Bcl11b expression in Tcf1-deficient cells rescues T cell development but does not strongly suppress the development of non-T cells; in contrast, expressing Gata3 suppresses their development but does not rescue T cell development. Thus, T cell development is controlled by a minimal transcription factor network involving Notch signaling, Tcf1, and the subsequent division of labor between Bcl11b and Gata3, thereby ensuring a properly regulated T cell gene expression program.

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