Research ArticleTHYMUS

Metabolic signaling directs the reciprocal lineage decisions of αβ and γδ T cells

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Science Immunology  06 Jul 2018:
Vol. 3, Issue 25, eaas9818
DOI: 10.1126/sciimmunol.aas9818

Wiring metabolic signaling circuits in thymocytes

Cell differentiation is often accompanied by metabolic changes. Yang et al. report that generation of double-positive (DP) thymocytes from double-negative (DN) cells coincides with dynamic regulation of glycolytic and oxidative metabolism. Given the central role of mechanistic target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1) signaling in regulating metabolic changes, they examined the role of mTORC1 pathway in thymocyte development by conditionally deleting RAPTOR, the key component of the mTORC1 complex, in thymocytes. Loss of RAPTOR impaired the DN-to-DP transition, but unexpectedly also perturbed the balance between αβ and γδ T cells and promoted the generation of γδ T cells. Their studies highlight an unappreciated role for mTORC1-dependent metabolic changes in controlling thymocyte fates.


The interaction between extrinsic factors and intrinsic signal strength governs thymocyte development, but the mechanisms linking them remain elusive. We report that mechanistic target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1) couples microenvironmental cues with metabolic programs to orchestrate the reciprocal development of two fundamentally distinct T cell lineages, the αβ and γδ T cells. Developing thymocytes dynamically engage metabolic programs including glycolysis and oxidative phosphorylation, as well as mTORC1 signaling. Loss of RAPTOR-mediated mTORC1 activity impairs the development of αβ T cells but promotes γδ T cell generation, associated with disrupted metabolic remodeling of oxidative and glycolytic metabolism. Mechanistically, we identify mTORC1-dependent control of reactive oxygen species production as a key metabolic signal in mediating αβ and γδ T cell development, and perturbation of redox homeostasis impinges upon thymocyte fate decisions and mTORC1-associated phenotypes. Furthermore, single-cell RNA sequencing and genetic dissection reveal that mTORC1 links developmental signals from T cell receptors and NOTCH to coordinate metabolic activity and signal strength. Our results establish mTORC1-driven metabolic signaling as a decisive factor for reciprocal αβ and γδ T cell development and provide insight into metabolic control of cell signaling and fate decisions.

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