Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Cell Biology, Microbiology and Molecular Biology

Major Professor

Xue-Zhong Yu, M.D., M.S.

Co-Major Professor

Claudio Anasetti, M.D.

Committee Member

Amer Beg, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Kenneth Wright, Ph.D.


T cell differentiation, IFN-γ, hematopoietic antigen presenting cells, T cell apoptosis


Allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (allo-HSCT) is an effective therapeutic option for many malignant diseases. However, the efficacy of allo-HSCT is limited by the occurrence of destructive graft-versus-host disease (GVHD). Since allogeneic T cells are the driving force in the development of GVHD, their activation, proliferation, and differentiation are key factors to understanding GVHD pathogenesis. On the other hand, antigen-presenting cells (APCs) are essential for allogeneic T-cell priming and the development of GVHD. The T-box transcription factor T-bet is a master regulator for IFN-γ production and Th1 differentiation. T-bet also regulates the functions of APCs including dendritic cells (DCs) and B cells. Therefore, we investigated the role of T-bet in T cell responses, as well as on APC functions, in acute GVHD (aGVHD) using murine models of allogenic bone marrow transplantation (allo-BMT).

In Chapter 2, we evaluated the roles of T-bet and IFN-γ in T-cell responses. T-bet-/- T cells induced significantly less GVHD compared with either wild-type (WT) or IFN-γ-/- counterparts in CD4-driven major histocompatibility complex (MHC)- or minor histocompatibility antigen (miHA)-mismatched models. We defined several T-bet-dependent but IFN-γ-independent molecules that may account for this distinct outcome. Further study indicates that T-bet also controls the optimal activity of Th17 cells to induce GVHD. Moreover, the compromised graft-versus-leukemia (GVL) effect of T-bet-/- T cells could be essentially reversed by IL-17 neutralization. Thus, targeting T-bet or regulating its downstream effectors independent of IFN-γ may be a promising strategy to control GVHD in the clinic.

In Chapter 3, we evaluated the role of T-bet on APCs and found that T-bet-/- recipients developed much milder GVHD than their WT counterparts in MHC-mismatched or CD4-depedent miHA-mismatched models. As the functional readout of APCs, allogeneic donor T cells, particular CD4 subpopulation, significantly reduced IFN-γ production, proliferation and migration, and caused less damage in liver and gut in T-bet-/- recipients. We further observed that T-bet on recipient hematopoietic APCs, particular DCs, was primarily responsible for donor T-cell response and pathogenicity in GVHD. In fact, Trail/DR5 interaction served as a major signaling pathway responsible for donor T-cell apoptosis and impaired GVHD development in T-bet-/- recipients. Furthermore, T-bet expression on the host is largely dispensable for the GVL effect.

Taken together, we propose that T-bet is a potential therapeutic target for the control of GVHD through regulating T cells as well as APCs. We believe further exploration and understanding of the immunobiology of T-bet in controlling the activities of T cells and APCs in GVHD will expand therapeutic options for the continuing success of allo-HSCT.