CD4+ T cell activation and concomitant mTOR metabolic inhibition can ablate microbiota-specific memory cells and prevent colitis

Qing Zhao, Lennard W. Duck, Fengyuan Huang, Katie L. Alexander, Craig L. Maynard, Peter J. Mannon, Charles O. Elson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Microbiota-reactive CD4+ T memory (TM) cells are generated during intestinal infections and inflammation, and can revert to pathogenic CD4+ T effector (TE) cells, resulting in chronicity of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Unlike TE cells, TM cells have a low rate of metabolism unless they are activated by reencountering cognate antigen. Here, we show that the combination of cell activation and metabolic checkpoint inhibition (CAMCI), by targeting key metabolic regulators mTORC and AMPK, resulted in cell death and anergy, but enhanced the induction of the regulatory subset. Parenteral application of this treatment with a synthetic peptide containing multiple flagellin T cell epitopes (MEP1) and metabolic inhibition successfully prevented the development of CD4+ T cell–driven colitis. Microbiota-specific CD4+ T cells, especially the pathogenic TE subsets, were decreased 10-fold in the intestinal lamina propria. Furthermore, using the CAMCI strategy, we were able to prevent antigen-specific TM cell formation upon initial antigen encounter, and ablate existing TM cells upon reactivation in mice, leading to an altered transcriptome in the remaining CD4+ T cells after ablation. Microbiota flagellin–specific CD4+ T cells from patients with Crohn’s disease were ablated in a similar manner after CAMCI in vitro, with half of the antigen-specific T cells undergoing cell death. These results indicate that parenteral activation of microbiota-specific CD4+ T cells with concomitant metabolic inhibition is an effective way to ablate pathogenic CD4+ TM cells and to induce T regulatory (Treg) cells that provide antigen-specific and bystander suppression, supporting a potential immunotherapy to prevent or ameliorate IBD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbereabc6373
JournalScience immunology
Issue number54
StatePublished - Dec 23 2021
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


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