ICOS provides an important costimulation to promote T-cell activation and function. Using a knock-in mouse strain, termed ICOS-YF, in which the cytoplasmic tail of ICOS cannot activate phosphoinositide 3-kinase (PI3K), we have shown that ICOS-PI3K signaling axis is critical for the generation of follicular helper T cells. We also observed that, in both CD4+ and CD8+ T cells, ICOS could potentiate TCR-mediated calcium flux in a PI3K-independent manner in vitro. Although ICOS can potentiate TCR-mediated calcium flux independent of PI3K, its biological significance is unclear. To address this question, we studied the function of ICOS-YF T cells in comparison with ICOS wild-type (WT) and knock-out (KO) T cells in MHC-mismatched bone marrow transplantation (BMT) models. Severity of acute graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) was evaluated based on recipient survival, body weight change, and pathologic scores. Consistent with the data previously published by us and others, ICOS KO T cells had significantly reduced ability to cause acute GVHD as compared to WT T cells. We further observed that YF T cells were significantly more capable in causing GVHD than KO T cells, but less capable than WT T cells. Mechanically, the levels of serum TNFa and IFNg were similar in the recipients of YF or KO T cells, but significantly lower than those of WT T cells. However, on the per-cell basis, YF CD8+ T cells expressed similar levels of intracellular IFNg as WT T cells, but significantly higher than KO T cells. We further compared the ability of CD4+ or CD8+ T cells alone in the induction of acute GVHD, and found that CD4+ T cells from YF and KO mice were similarly impaired in their capacity to induce acute GVHD. In contrast, the pathogenic capacity of CD8+ T cells from YF mice was comparable to that of WT cells, whereas KO CD8+ T cells were significantly less pathogenic. These results suggest that although both CD4+ and CD8+ T cells depend on ICOS costimulation, the downstream signaling pathways they utilize are distinct: CD4+ T cells depend on ICOS-PI3K signaling whereas CD8+ T cells are more dependent on PI3K-independent pathways, probably calcium signaling. Taken together, our study reveals a complexity in ICOS signaling mechanisms in T cell activation and GVHD induction.
No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.
Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.