In response to activation, CD4+ T cells upregulate autophagy. However, the functional consequences of that upregulation have not been fully elucidated. In this study, we identify autophagy as a tolerance-avoidance mechanism. Our data show that inhibition of autophagy during CD4+ T cell activation induces a long-lasting state of hypo-responsiveness that is accompanied by the expression of an anergic gene signature. Cells unable to induce autophagy after T cell receptor (TCR) engagement show inefficient mitochondrial respiration and decreased turnover of the protein tyrosine phosphatase PTPN1, which translates into defective TCR-mediated signaling. In vivo, inhibition of autophagy during antigen priming induces T cell anergy and decreases the severity of disease in an experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis mouse model. Interestingly, CD4+ T cells isolated from the synovial fluid of juvenile idiopathic arthritis patients, while resistant to suboptimal stimulation-induced anergy, can be tolerized with autophagy inhibitors. We propose that autophagy constitutes a tolerance-avoidance mechanism, which determines CD4+ T cell fate. Mocholi et al. show that, following T cell activation, activation of autophagy constitutes a tolerance-avoidance mechanism that, through modulation of cell metabolism and specific signaling pathways, allows T cells to engage in effector responses and avoid anergy. In vivo inhibition of autophagy in T cells induces tolerance and prevents autoimmunity.
Mocholi, E., Dowling, S. D., Botbol, Y., Gruber, R. C., Ray, A. K., Vastert, S., … Macian, F. (2018). Autophagy Is a Tolerance-Avoidance Mechanism that Modulates TCR-Mediated Signaling and Cell Metabolism to Prevent Induction of T Cell Anergy. Cell Reports, 24(5), 1136–1150. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.celrep.2018.06.065