Using Tcf1 transgenic mice, Shan and Hu et al. showed that ectopically expressed transcription factor Tcf1 skewed exhausted CD8+ T cells toward a stem-like phenotype (Tex-stem), which had enhanced proliferative capacity, persistence, and cytokine production, and reduced PD-1 expression. Tex-stem cells improved control of B16 tumors and LCMV chronic viral infection, and exhibited enhanced response to anti-PD-L1. Mechanistically, ectopic Tcf1 expression enhanced gene expression patterns established in WT Tcf1+ Tex-stem cells, but also led to expression of new genes via modulation of existing and novel chromatin accessibility sites.
Contributed by Anna Scherer
ABSTRACT: Exhausted CD8(+) T (Tex) cells are dysfunctional due to persistent antigen exposure in chronic viral infection and tumor contexts. A stem cell-like Tex (Tex-stem) subset can self-renew and differentiate into terminally exhausted (Tex-term) cells. Here, we show that ectopic Tcf1 expression potently promoted the generation of Tex-stem cells in both a chronic viral infection and preclinical tumor models. Tcf1 overexpression diminished coinhibitory receptor expression and enhanced polycytokine-producing capacity while retaining a heightened responses to checkpoint blockade, leading to enhanced viral and tumor control. Mechanistically, ectopically expressed Tcf1 exploited existing and novel chromatin accessible sites as transcriptional enhancers or repressors and modulated the transcriptome by enforcing pre-existing expression patterns in Tex-stem cells, such as enhanced suppression of Blimp1 and Bim and acquisition of new downstream genes, including Mx1, Tox2, and Runx3. These findings reveal a pronounced impact of ectopic Tcf1 expression on Tex functional restoration and highlight the therapeutic potential of harnessing Tcf1-enforced transcriptional programs.