The innate and adaptive arms of the immune system collaborate to protect the host against invading pathogens and perform immune surveillance against malignant transformation. As key effectors of the adaptive immune system, conventional T cells develop in the thymus and exit to the periphery as naïve cells, requiring antigenic stimulation and subsequent differentiation to gain effector functions, such as cytokine secretion or cytolytic activity. In contrast to conventional T cells, non-conventional T lymphocytes possess characteristics of innate immune cells, such as expression of surface markers associated with activation/memory and acquisition of effector function during thymic development, and thus are termed innate-like lymphocytes (ILLs). Recently, an expanded population of CD8+ ILLs was identified in mice with a mutation in the T cell receptor signaling protein SLP-76 (SLP-76 Y145F mice). These CD8+ ILLs are characterized by expression of activation/memory markers CD44 and CD122, the expression of the T-box transcription factor Eomesodermin (Eomes) and rapid production of IFN-γ after ex vivo stimulation. The development of these CD8+ ILLs occurs in a cell-extrinsic manner and requires IL-4. We demonstrate that IL-4 is sufficient to upregulate Eomes expression in wild-type CD8 single-positive (SP) thymocytes in short-term in vitro culture and potentiate CD8+ ILL development in fetal thymic organ culture. Using phospho-flow cytometry, we find that CD8+ ILLs from SLP-76 Y145F mice have increased STAT6 and Akt activation vs. CD8+ non-ILLs. In CD8SP thymocytes deficient in STAT6, Eomes expression is not upregulated in response to IL-4. In addition, we demonstrate that pharmacologic inhibition of Akt in SLP-76 Y145F fetal thymic organ culture blocks CD8+ ILL development and also prevents IL-4 induced Eomes upregulation in WT CD8SP thymocytes. Importantly, we have identified CD8+ ILLs in human fetal thymocytes and umbilical cord blood and found that IL-4 is sufficient to up-regulate Eomes expression in these cells. Taken together, our data suggest that IL-4 signaling via STAT6 and Akt pathways is required for IL-4 induction of Eomes expression and CD8+ ILL development. Understanding signal transduction pathways required for CD8+ ILL development will provide insight into the development of this unique lymphocyte subset that sits at the interface between innate and adaptive immunity and has been identified in human umbilical cord blood.
No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.
Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.