Raf signaling but not the ERK effector SAP-1 is required for regulatory T cell development.
Willoughby JE., Costello PS., Nicolas RH., Robinson NJ., Stamp G., Powrie F., Treisman R.
Regulatory T cells (T(reg)) play an important role in immune regulation. Their development in the thymus requires TCR activation and recognition of peptide-MHC, although the downstream signals controlling commitment to the lineage are unclear. To compare the requirements for positive selection and T(reg) development, we studied knockout and transgenic mice defective in Raf signaling and the ERK effector SRF accessory protein 1 (SAP-1), a member of the ternary complex factor family of Ets domain transcription factors. Although SAP-1 deficient mice display a severe defect in thymocyte positive selection, T(reg) development was unimpaired as assessed by expression of Foxp3 and the activation markers CD25, GITR, CTLA4, and CD103 in the CD4(+) cell population. In contrast, inhibition of Raf signaling by the interfering dominant negative Raf derivative reduced both Foxp3(+) and Foxp3(-) CD4(+) populations. In SAP-1-deficient CD4(+)CD25(+) T(reg) cells, TCR crosslinking efficiently induced ERK activation, but transcriptional induction of the immediate early gene Egr-1 was impaired. Nevertheless, neither deletion of SAP-1 nor expression of a dominant negative Raf derivative affected the ability of CD4(+)CD25(+) T(reg) cells to suppress CD4(+)CD25(-) cell proliferation in vitro. Finally the suppressive activity of CD4(+)CD25(+) T(reg) cells lacking SAP-1 in an in vivo colitis model was not significantly impaired. The signaling requirements for development of T(reg) cells in the thymus are thus distinct from those required for "conventional" T cell positive selection, and ERK signaling to SAP-1 is not required for the suppressive activity of T(reg) cells.