The role of histone deacetylases (HDACs) as epigenetic regulators of immune function is becoming increasingly clear. Recently, the role of specific HDACs in orchestrating T-cell maturation, survival and function has begun to emerge, giving rationale to selective therapy to direct immune responses in different disease settings, including cancer. In particular, HDAC6 has recently been characterized as a negative regulator of regulatory T-cell suppressive activity (de Zoeten, Molecular and Cellular Biology, 2011). Here we report an expanded, novel role of HDAC6 in regulating T-cell survival and activation. First, the relative expression of the eleven classic HDACs was evaluated in resting and activated T-cells from mouse and human samples. It was found that the majority of HDACs decrease in expression following activation, including HDAC6. Next, in a HDAC6KO mouse model, it was found that T-cells lacking HDAC6 had skewed survival when compared to wild-type murine T-cells. This difference seems to be the result of an increased CD4+ T-cells population in the lymph nodes, with a concomitant decrease in viable CD8+ T-cells. To determine whether this population skewing was the consequence of defects in HDAC6KO mice T-cell development, wild-type murine T-cells were treated with an isotype-selective HDAC6 inhibitor. The results seen in HDAC6KO T-cells were recapitulated when wild-type T-cells were activated and treated with HDAC6 specific inhibitors, indicating a role of HDAC6 outside of thymic development in promoting CD4+ T-cell survival at the expense of CD8+ T-cells. Interestingly, it was found that activated CD4+ T-cells displayed decreased expression of the apoptosis signaling receptor FAS after HDAC6 inhibition while no differences were observed in CD8+ T-cells under the same conditions. In addition to these results implicating HDAC6 in regulating T-cell survival, expression of surface markers was altered in both CD8+ and CD4+ T-cells, including enhanced expression of the activation molecule CD69 in stimulated T-cells treated with an isotype-selective HDAC6 inhibitor. Finally, in vivo studies in tumor-bearing HDAC6KO mice revealed a significantly delayed in tumor progression. Similar results were observed in lymphoma-bearing mice treated with HDAC6 specific inhibitors. Taken together, this data shows that HDACs are dynamic in expression with regards to T-cell activation state. More specifically, we have unveiled hereto-unexplored roles of HDAC6 in regulating T-cell survival and function, pointing at this specific HDAC as an appealing target to harness T-cell immunity in hematologic malignancies.


No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.