Autoreactive CD4 T cells that differentiate into pathogenic Th17 cells can trigger autoimmune diseases. Therefore, investigating the regulatory network that modulates Th17 differentiation may yield important therapeutic insights. miR-146a has emerged as a critical modulator of immune reactions, but its role in regulating autoreactive Th17 cells and organ-specific autoimmunity remains largely unknown. Here, we have reported that miR-146a–deficient mice developed more severe experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), an animal model of human multiple sclerosis (MS). We bred miR-146a–deficient mice with 2D2 T cell receptor–Tg mice to generate 2D2 CD4 T cells that are deficient in miR-146a and specific for myelin oligodendrocyte glycoprotein (MOG), an autoantigen in the EAE model. miR-146a–deficient 2D2 T cells induced more severe EAE and were more prone to differentiate into Th17 cells. Microarray analysis revealed enhancements in IL-6– and IL-21–induced Th17 differentiation pathways in these T cells. Further study showed that miR-146a inhibited the production of autocrine IL-6 and IL-21 in 2D2 T cells, which in turn reduced their Th17 differentiation. Thus, our study identifies miR-146a as an important molecular brake that blocks the autocrine IL-6– and IL-21–induced Th17 differentiation pathways in autoreactive CD4 T cells, highlighting its potential as a therapeutic target for treating autoimmune diseases.
Bo Li, Xi Wang, In Young Choi, Yu-Chen Wang, Siyuan Liu, Alexander T. Pham, Heesung Moon, Drake J. Smith, Dinesh S. Rao, Mark P. Boldin, Lili Yang