Tregs can adopt a catabolic metabolic program with increased capacity for fatty acid oxidation–fueled oxidative phosphorylation (OXPHOS). It is unclear why this form of metabolism is favored in Tregs and, more specifically, whether this program represents an adaptation to the environment and developmental cues or is “hardwired” by Foxp3. Here we show, using metabolic analysis and an unbiased mass spectroscopy–based proteomics approach, that Foxp3 is both necessary and sufficient to program Treg-increased respiratory capacity and Tregs’ increased ability to utilize fatty acids to fuel oxidative phosphorylation. Foxp3 drives upregulation of components of all the electron transport complexes, increasing their activity and ATP generation by oxidative phosphorylation. Increased fatty acid β-oxidation also results in selective protection of Foxp3+ cells from fatty acid–induced cell death. This observation may provide novel targets for modulating Treg function or selection therapeutically.
Duncan Howie, Stephen Paul Cobbold, Elizabeth Adams, Annemieke Ten Bokum, Andra Stefania Necula, Wei Zhang, Honglei Huang, David J. Roberts, Benjamin Thomas, Svenja S. Hester, David J. Vaux, Alexander G. Betz, Herman Waldmann