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A distal Foxp3 enhancer enables interleukin-2 dependent thymic Treg cell lineage commitment for robust immune tolerance

Dikiy, S;Li, J;Bai, L;Jiang, M;Janke, L;Zong, X;Hao, X;Hoyos, B;Wang, ZM;Xu, B;Fan, Y;Rudensky, AY;Feng, Y;

Activation of the STAT5 transcription factor downstream of the Interleukin-2 receptor (IL-2R) induces expression of Foxp3, a critical step in the differentiation of regulatory T (Treg) cells. Due to the pleiotropic effects of IL-2R signaling, it is unclear how STAT5 acts directly on the Foxp3 locus to promote its expression. Here, we report that IL-2 – STAT5 signaling converged on an enhancer (CNS0) during Foxp3 induction. CNS0 facilitated the IL-2 dependent CD25+Foxp3 precursor to Treg cell transition in the thymus. Its deficiency resulted in impaired Treg cell generation in neonates, which was partially mitigated with age. While the thymic Treg cell paucity caused by CNS0 deficiency did not result in autoimmunity on its own, it exacerbated autoimmune manifestations caused by disruption of the Aire gene. Thus, CNS0 enhancer activity ensures robust Treg cell differentiation early in postnatal life and cooperatively with other tolerance mechanisms minimizes autoimmunity.