Background: Following antigen recognition, naive T helper (Th; CD4+) cells can differentiate toward one of several effector lineages such as Th1 and Th2; each expressing distinctive transcriptional profiles of cytokine genes. These cytokines eventually instruct the strategy of the immune response. In our search for factors that propagate the transcriptional programs of differentiated Th cells, we previously found that Polycomb group (PcG) proteins, which are known as epigenetic regulators that maintain repressive chromatin states, bind differentially the signature cytokine genes. Unexpectedly, their binding to the Ifng (Interferon-g) in Th1 cells and Il4 (Interleukin-4) in Th2 cells, was correlated with transcriptional activation. Therefore, in this study we aimed to determine the functional role of PcG proteins in the regulation of the expression of the signature cytokine genes.Methods: PcG proteins were knocked down in primary and established murine Th cells using transduction of lentiviruses encoding short hairpin RNAs (shRNAs) directed to Mel-18, Ezh2, Eed and Ring1A, representative of two different PcG complexes. The chromatin structure and the binding activity of PcG proteins and transcription factors at the Ifng promoter were assessed by chromatin immunoprecipitation (ChIP) assays.Results: Downregulation of PcG proteins was consistent with their function as positive regulators of the signature cytokine genes in primary and established Th1 and Th2 cells. Moreover, the PcG protein Mel-18 was necessary to recruit the Th1-lineage specifying transcription factor T-bet, and the T cell receptor (TCR)-inducible transcription factor NFAT1 to the Ifng promoter in Th1 cells. Nevertheless, our results suggest that PcG proteins can function also as conventional transcriptional repressors in Th cells of their known target the Hoxa7 gene.Conclusions: Our data support a model whereby the non-differentially expressed PcG proteins are recruited in a Th-lineage specific manner to their target genes to enforce the maintenance of specific transcriptional programs as transcriptional repressors or activators. Although our results suggest a direct effect of PcG proteins in the regulation of cytokine gene expression, indirect functions cannot be excluded. © 2011 Jacob et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.
Jacob, E., Hod-Dvorai, R., Ben-Mordechai, O. L., Boyko, Y., & Avni, O. (2011). Dual function of polycomb group proteins in differentiated murine T helper (CD4+) cells. Journal of Molecular Signaling, 6. https://doi.org/10.1186/1750-2187-6-5