T cell receptor (TCR) stimulation of naive CD8+ T cells initiates reprogramming of cis-regulatory landscapes that specify effector and memory cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) differentiation. We mapped regions of hyper-accessible chromatin in naive cells during TCR stimulation and discovered that the transcription factor (TF) Runx3 promoted accessibility to memory CTL-specific cis-regulatory regions before the first cell division and was essential for memory CTL differentiation. Runx3 was specifically required for accessibility to regions highly enriched with IRF, bZIP and Prdm1-like TF motifs, upregulation of TFs Irf4 and Blimp1, and activation of fundamental CTL attributes in early effector and memory precursor cells. Runx3 ensured that nascent CTLs differentiated into memory CTLs by preventing high expression of the TF T-bet, slowing effector cell proliferation, and repressing terminal CTL differentiation. Runx3 overexpression enhanced memory CTL differentiation during iterative infections. Thus, Runx3 governs chromatin accessibility during TCR stimulation and enforces the memory CTL developmental program.
Many lines of evidence have indicated that both genetic and non-genetic determinants can contribute to intra-tumor heterogeneity and influence cancer outcomes. Among the best described sub-population of cancer cells generated by non-genetic mechanisms are cells characterized by a CD44+/CD24- cell surface marker profile. Here, we report that human CD44+/CD24- cancer cells are genetically highly unstable because of intrinsic defects in their DNA-repair capabilities. In fact, in CD44+/CD24- cells, constitutive activation of the TGF-beta axis was both necessary and sufficient to reduce the expression of genes that are crucial in coordinating DNA damage repair mechanisms. Consequently, we observed that cancer cells that reside in a CD44+/CD24- state are characterized by increased accumulation of DNA copy number alterations, greater genetic diversity and improved adaptability to drug treatment. Together, these data suggest that the transition into a CD44+/CD24- cell state can promote intra-tumor genetic heterogeneity, spur tumor evolution and increase tumor fitness.