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Follicular Regulatory T cell migration and differentiation



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Vanderleyden, Ine 


The germinal centre (GC) response is critical for generating highly effective humoral immune responses and immunological memory that forms the basis of successful immunisation. Control of the output of the GC response requires Follicular regulatory T (Tfr) cells, a subset of Foxp3+ Treg cells located within germinal centres. Tfr cells were first characterised in detail in 2011 and because of this relatively little is known about the exact role of Tfr cells within the GC, and the mechanism/s through which they exert their suppressive function. At the outset of this work, the major barrier to understanding Tfr cell biology was the lack of appropriate tools to study Tfr cells specifically, without affecting Tfh cells or other Treg cell subsets. This thesis set out to develop a strain of mice that specifically lacks Tfr cells. A unique feature of Tfr cells is their CXCR5-dependent localisation within the GC. Therefore, genetic strategies that exclude Treg cells from entering the GC are a rational approach to generating a mouse model that lacks Tfr cells. To this end, I generated a strain of mice that lacks CXCR5 on Foxp3+ Treg cells. These animals show a ~50% reduction in GC localised Tfr cells, and a GC response that is comparable to control animals. These data indicated that redundant mechanisms are involved in Treg cell homing to the GC. I identified CXCR4 as a chemokine receptor that is also highly expressed on Tfr cells, and hypothesised that it may also be involved in Tfr cell localisation to the GC. Surprisingly, simultaneous deletion of both CXCR4 and CXCR5 in Treg cells resulted in a less marked reduction in Tfr cells compared to deletion of CXCR5 alone, suggesting that CXCR4 might be involved in negative regulation of Treg homing to the GC. These data identify both CXCR4 and CXCR5 as key regulators of Tfr cell biology.

Bcl6 drives Tfr cell differentiation, but how this transcriptional repressor facilitates commitment to the Tfr cell subset is unknown. I hypothesised that Bcl6 drives Tfr cell differentiation by repressing Tbx21, the transcriptional regulator involved in the differentiation of Th1-like Treg cells. I tested this hypothesis in Bcl6fl/fl CD4cre/+ animals and unexpectedly found that loss of Bcl6 regulates Treg cell differentiation in the absence of immunisation or infection. I have demonstrated that thymic loss of Bcl6 results in an increase in activated effector Treg cells, which occurs very early in life. These data point to a novel role for Bcl6 in preventing early thymic Treg activation, indicating that Bcl6 has a global role in Treg development and differentiation that is not simply limited to Tfr cells.





Linterman, Michelle


Follicular regulatory T cells, Germinal centre response, Regulatory T cells, Bcl6, CXCR5


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge
The Cambridge Trust