IL-7 signaling imparts polyfunctionality and stemness potential to CD4+ T cells

Zhi-Chun Ding, Chufeng Liu, Yang Cao, Tsadik Habtetsion, Michal Kuczma, Wenhu Pi, Heng Kong, Ercan Cacan, Susanna F. Greer, Yan Cui, Bruce R. Blazar, David H Munn, Gang Zhou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


The functional status of CD4+ T cells is a critical determinant of antitumor immunity. Polyfunctional CD4+ T cells possess the ability to concomitantly produce multiple Th1-type cytokines, exhibiting a functional attribute desirable for cancer immunotherapy. However, the mechanisms by which these cells are induced are neither defined nor it is clear if these cells can be used therapeutically to treat cancer. Here, we report that CD4+ T cells exposed to exogenous IL-7 during antigenic stimulation can acquire a polyfunctional phenotype, characterized by their ability to simultaneously express IFNγ, IL-2, TNFα and granzyme B. This IL-7-driven polyfunctional phenotype was associated with increased histone acetylation in the promoters of the effector genes, indicative of increased chromatin accessibility. Moreover, forced expression of a constitutively active (CA) form of STAT5 recapitulated IL-7 in inducing CD4+ T-cell polyfunctionality. Conversely, the expression of a dominant negative (DN) form of STAT5 abolished the ability of IL-7 to induce polyfunctional CD4+ T cells. These in-vitro-generated polyfunctional CD4+ T cells can traffic to tumor and expand intratumorally in response to immunization. Importantly, adoptive transfer of polyfunctional CD4+ T cells following lymphodepletive chemotherapy was able to eradicate large established tumors. This beneficial outcome was associated with the occurrence of antigen epitope spreading, activation of the endogenous CD8+ T cells and persistence of donor CD4+ T cells exhibiting memory stem cell attributes. These findings indicate that IL-7 signaling can impart polyfunctionality and stemness potential to CD4+ T cells, revealing a previously unknown property of IL-7 that can be exploited in adoptive T-cell immunotherapy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1171445
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2 2016


  • Adoptive cell therapy
  • CD4
  • IL-7
  • T memory stem cell
  • polyfunctional

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology
  • Oncology


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