Although caspase activation is critical for T cell proliferation following activation, the role of caspases in T cell differentiation is unclear. In this study, we have examined the effect of inhibition of caspases on the process of Th1/Th2 differentiation. Naive CD4+ T cells activated under neutral differentiation conditions in the presence of the pan caspase inhibitor benzyloxycarbonyl-Val-Ala-Asp (Z-VAD) fluoromethylketone showed increased Th2 cell differentiation concomitant with an up-regulation of GATA-3. Z-VAD induced optimal Th2 differentiation when T cells were stimulated under strong primary activation conditions. Treatment of naive CD4+ T cells with Z-VAD under strong activation conditions led to a 6-fold increase in IL-4 mRNA compared with control-treated T cells. The Z-VAD-induced increase in IL-4 transcription occurred within 24 h of activation and was independent of Stat6. IFN-γ mRNA expression was not affected by Z-VAD at the 24-h time point. Z-VAD did not augment IL-4 expression from a committed Th2 cell, suggesting that caspases regulate IL-4 expression specifically during primary T cell activation. Z-VAD did not augment IL-12-driven Th1 differentiation. Activation of T cells in the presence of Z-VAD led to a specific increase in the expression of the transcription factor c-fos. Lastly, retrovirus-mediated expression of the antiapoptotic protein Bcl-2 resulted in an enhancement of Th2 cytokine expression, suggesting that inhibition of caspase activation by Bcl-2 can also modulate IL-4 expression. These findings reveal a novel regulatory mechanism of cytokine expression by caspases, and may explain how signaling pathways that inhibit apoptosis tend to promote Th2 differentiation.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Immunology and Allergy