Defining the epigenetic mechanisms (e.g. chromatin modifications) that underlie T cell fate decisions is a major challenge. The transcriptional coactivators CREB binding protein (CBP) and the closely related p300 comprise a two-member family of histone/protein acetyltransferases that interact with over 50 T lymphocyte-essential transcriptional regulators. Rather than having distinct regulatory roles, CBP and p300 are often thought to confer utilitarian transactivation and histone modifying functions to transcription factors that mediate T cell fate. In contrast to this view, we show here that CBP acts uniquely in conventional T cell development. Inactivation of CBP, but not p300, starting at the double negative stage of T cell development yielded thymocytes with partial activation of an effector/memory- or innate-T cell program. CD8SP thymocytes from CBP mutant mice expressed genes that define professional CD8 cells such as Il-2/Il-15 receptor β chain, granzyme A, interferon γ (Ifnγ), Fas ligand, perforin, and the chemokine receptors Ccr5, and Cxcr3. CD4SP thymocytes from CBP mutant mice also expressed effector genes such as Ifnγ, Il-4, and Ccr5. In addition, CD8SP and CD4SP thymocytes from CBP mutant mice produced Ifnγ protein when the cells were stimulated with phorbol ester and ionomycin. Mechanistically, loss of CBP acted cell non-autonomously to induce the expression of the CD8 T cell master regulatory transcription factor eomesodermin (Eomes). This suggests that CBP in thymocytes or T cells controls an extracellular factor that helps demarcate conventional naïve T cell development in the thymus from effector/memory T cell differentiation in the periphery.

Author notes

Disclosure: No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.