Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics

First Advisor

Dr. Francesc Marti


The mammalian immune system is equipped to both eliminate pathogenic microorganisms and tumors, while remaining in homeostasis with commensal species at mucosal surfaces and tolerant towards self. Suppressor regulatory T cells (Tregs) are a major sentinel of this immunological tolerance. Induced Tregs (iTregs) arise in the periphery following the integration of cues from the metabolites, cytokines, etc. which make up its milieu. Dysregulation of iTreg development, function or homing underlies the etiology of many autoimmune diseases and immunopathologies. The amelioration or prevention of multiple murine disease models by boosting Treg cell numbers foreshadows clinical efficacy of iTreg therapy, but an incomplete understanding of Treg development has thus far prevented successful translation. Therefore, we considered the basic biology of T cell fate decision making from two unique, but integrated angles. First, we show that the stimulation of PPARγ in human T cells upregulates RDH10, a molecule which catalyzes the rate limiting step in the oxidation of retinol to transcriptionally active all-trans retinoic acid (ATRA), a positive regulator of iTreg development. This functionally intact pathway endows T cells the ability to autonomously sense and respond to retinoid signals present during Treg development and at tissue sites. Next, we asked questions about how T cells sense nutrient and oxygen availability as they differentiate. Tregs lacking the serine/threonine kinase PINK1 have limited activation-induced phosphorylation of Akt and oxidative phosphorylation rates, and reduced suppressor function. Notably, the uncoupling of iTreg function from normal FoxP3 expression reinforces the recent hypothesis that the PI3K/Akt/mTORC1 axis and metabolic checkpoints are decisive players in the acquisition of suppressor activity. Ultimately, the studies described herein converge on Akt and metabolism, and contribute to our understanding of how T cells integrate diverse signals present during fate determinism, provoking future Treg based therapeutics.

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