The development of human prenatal adaptive immunity progresses faster than previously appreciated, with the emergence of memory CD4+ T cells alongside regulatory T cells by midgestation. We previously identified a prenatal specific population of promyelocytic leukemia zinc finger–positive (PLZF+) CD4+ T cells with heightened effector potential that were enriched in the developing intestine and accumulated in the cord blood of infants exposed to prenatal inflammation. However, the signals that drive their tissue distribution and effector maturation are unknown. Here, we define the transcriptional and functional heterogeneity of human prenatal PLZF+CD4+ T cells and identify the compartmentalization of T helper–like (Th-like) effector function across the small intestine (SI) and mesenteric lymph nodes (MLNs). IL-7 was more abundant in the SI relative to the MLNs and drove the preferential expansion of naive PLZF+CD4+ T cells via enhanced STAT5 and MEK/ERK signaling. Exposure to IL-7 was sufficient to induce the acquisition of CD45RO expression and rapid effector function in a subset of PLZF+CD4+ T cells, identifying a human analog of memory phenotype CD4+ T cells. Further, IL-7 modulated the differentiation of Th1- and Th17-like PLZF+CD4+ T cells and thus likely contributes to the anatomic compartmentalization of human prenatal CD4+ T cell effector function.


Veronica Locher, Sara Park, Daniel G. Bunis, Stephanie Makredes, Margareta Mayer, Trevor D. Burt, Gabriela K. Fragiadakis, Joanna Halkias


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