The epigenetic landscape of T cell exhaustion

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Science  27 Oct 2016:
DOI: 10.1126/science.aae0491

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Exhausted T cells in cancer and chronic viral infection express distinctive patterns of genes, including sustained expression of programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1). However, the regulation of gene expression in exhausted T cells is poorly understood. Here, we define the accessible chromatin landscape in exhausted CD8+ T cells and show that it is distinct from functional memory CD8+ T cells. Exhausted CD8+ T cells in humans and a mouse model of chronic viral infection acquire a state-specific epigenetic landscape organized into functional modules of enhancers. Genome editing shows that PD-1 expression is regulated in part by an exhaustion-specific enhancer that contains essential RAR, T-bet, and Sox3 motifs. Functional enhancer maps may offer targets for genome editing that alter gene expression preferentially in exhausted CD8+ T cells.

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