Regulatory T (T(reg)) cells, characterized by expression of the transcription factor forkhead box P3 (Foxp3), maintain immune homeostasis by suppressing self-destructive immune responses. Foxp3 operates as a late-acting differentiation factor controlling T(reg) cell homeostasis and function, whereas the early T(reg)-cell-lineage commitment is regulated by the Akt kinase and the forkhead box O (Foxo) family of transcription factors. However, whether Foxo proteins act beyond the T(reg)-cell-commitment stage to control T(reg) cell homeostasis and function remains largely unexplored. Here we show that Foxo1 is a pivotal regulator of T(reg )cell function. T(reg) cells express high amounts of Foxo1 and display reduced T-cell-receptor-induced Akt activation, Foxo1 phosphorylation and Foxo1 nuclear exclusion. Mice with T(reg)-cell-specific deletion of Foxo1 develop a fatal inflammatory disorder similar in severity to that seen in Foxp3-deficient mice, but without the loss of T(reg) cells. Genome-wide analysis of Foxo1 binding sites reveals ~300 Foxo1-bound target genes, including the pro-inflammatory cytokine Ifng, that do not seem to be directly regulated by Foxp3. These findings show that the evolutionarily ancient Akt-Foxo1 signalling module controls a novel genetic program indispensable for T(reg) cell function.
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