Forkhead box protein 3-expressing (FOXP3+) regulatory T cells (Treg cells) suppress conventional T cells and are essential for immunological tolerance. FOXP3, the master transcription factor of Treg cells, controls the expression of multiples genes to guide Treg cell differentiation and function. However, only a small fraction (<10%) of Treg cell-associated genes are directly bound by FOXP3, and FOXP3 alone is insufficient to fully specify the Treg cell programme, indicating a role for other accessory transcription factors operating upstream, downstream and/or concurrently with FOXP3 to direct Treg cell specification and specialized functions. Indeed, the heterogeneity of Treg cells can be at least partially attributed to differential expression of transcription factors that fine-tune their trafficking, survival and functional properties, some of which are niche-specific. In this Review, we discuss the emerging roles of accessory transcription factors in controlling Treg cell identity. We specifically focus on members of the basic helix–loop–helix family (AHR), basic leucine zipper family (BACH2, NFIL3 and BATF), CUT homeobox family (SATB1), zinc-finger domain family (BLIMP1, Ikaros and BCL-11B) and interferon regulatory factor family (IRF4), as well as lineage-defining transcription factors (T-bet, GATA3, RORγt and BCL-6). Understanding the imprinting of Treg cell identity and specialized function will be key to unravelling basic mechanisms of autoimmunity and identifying novel targets for drug development.
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This work was supported by extramural research programmes of the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) (R35GM138283 to M.K.) and (in part) by the Intramural Research Programs of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (project number ZIA/DK075149 to B.A.). We also acknowledge support from the Purdue University Center for Cancer Research (P30CA023168). We thank V. Lazaveric (NIH) for constructive feedback on the first draft of the manuscript.
The authors declare no competing interests.
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Trujillo-Ochoa, J.L., Kazemian, M. & Afzali, B. The role of transcription factors in shaping regulatory T cell identity. Nat Rev Immunol 23, 842–856 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41577-023-00893-7