The Transcription Factor Hobit Identifies Human Cytotoxic CD4(+) T Cells

Anna E Oja, Felipe A Vieira Braga, Ester B M Remmerswaal, Natasja A M Kragten, Kirsten M L Hertoghs, Jianmin Zuo, Paul A Moss, René A W van Lier, Klaas P J M van Gisbergen, Pleun Hombrink

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The T cell lineage is commonly divided into CD4-expressing helper T cells that polarize immune responses through cytokine secretion and CD8-expressing cytotoxic T cells that eliminate infected target cells by virtue of the release of cytotoxic molecules. Recently, a population of CD4(+) T cells that conforms to the phenotype of cytotoxic CD8(+) T cells has received increased recognition. These cytotoxic CD4(+) T cells display constitutive expression of granzyme B and perforin at the protein level and mediate HLA class II-dependent killing of target cells. In humans, this cytotoxic profile is found within the human cytomegalovirus (hCMV)-specific, but not within the influenza- or Epstein-Barr virus-specific CD4(+) T cell populations, suggesting that, in particular, hCMV infection induces the formation of cytotoxic CD4(+) T cells. We have previously described that the transcription factor Homolog of Blimp-1 in T cells (Hobit) is specifically upregulated in CD45RA(+) effector CD8(+) T cells that arise after hCMV infection. Here, we describe the expression pattern of Hobit in human CD4(+) T cells. We found Hobit expression in cytotoxic CD4(+) T cells and accumulation of Hobit(+) CD4(+) T cells after primary hCMV infection. The Hobit(+) CD4(+) T cells displayed highly overlapping characteristics with Hobit(+) CD8(+) T cells, including the expression of cytotoxic molecules, T-bet, and CX3CR1. Interestingly, γδ(+) T cells that arise after hCMV infection also upregulate Hobit expression and display a similar effector phenotype as cytotoxic CD4(+) and CD8(+) T cells. These findings suggest a shared differentiation pathway in CD4(+), CD8(+), and γδ(+) T cells that may involve Hobit-driven acquisition of long-lived cytotoxic effector function.

Original languageEnglish
Article number325
JournalFrontiers in immunology
Publication statusPublished - 24 Mar 2017


  • Hobit
  • cytotoxic
  • CD4+ T cells
  • human cytomegalovirus
  • human


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