Human CD4+ T cells require exogenous cystine for glutathione and DNA synthesis.

PMID 26392411


Adaptive immune responses require activation and expansion of antigen-specific T cells. Whereas early T cell activation is independent of exogenous cystine (Cys2), T cell proliferation is dependent of Cys2. However, the exact roles of Cys2 in T cell proliferation still need to be determined. The aim of this study was to elucidate why activated human T cells require exogenous Cys2 in order to proliferate. We activated purified naïve human CD4+ T cells and found that glutathione (GSH) levels and DNA synthesis were dependent on Cys2 and increased in parallel with increasing concentrations of Cys2. Vice-versa, the GSH synthesis inhibitor L-buthionine-sulfoximine (BSO) and inhibition of Cys2 uptake with glutamate inhibited GSH and DNA synthesis in parallel. We further found that thioredoxin (Trx) can partly substitute for GSH during DNA synthesis. Finally, we show that GSH or Trx is required for the activity of ribonucleotide reductase (RNR), the enzyme responsible for generation of the deoxyribonucleotide DNA building blocks. In conclusion, we show that activated human T cells require exogenous Cys2 to proliferate and that this is partly explained by the fact that Cys2 is required for production of GSH, which in turn is required for optimal RNR-mediated deoxyribonucleotide synthesis and DNA replication.