Follicular helper T (Tfh) cells are crucial for germinal center (GC) formation and humoral adaptive immunity. Mechanisms underlying Tfh cell differentiation in peripheral and mucosal lymphoid organs are incompletely understood. We report here that mTOR kinase complexes 1 and 2 (mTORC1 and mTORC2) are essential for Tfh cell differentiation and GC reaction under steady state and after antigen immunization and viral infection. Loss of mTORC1 and mTORC2 in T cells exerted distinct effects on Tfh cell signature gene expression, whereas increased mTOR activity promoted Tfh responses. Deficiency of mTORC2 impaired CD4+ T cell accumulation and immunoglobulin A production and aberrantly induced the transcription factor Foxo1. Mechanistically, the costimulatory molecule ICOS activated mTORC1 and mTORC2 to drive glycolysis and lipogenesis, and glucose transporter 1-mediated glucose metabolism promoted Tfh cell responses. Altogether, mTOR acts as a central node in Tfh cells by linking immune signals to anabolic metabolism and transcriptional activity.
Follicular helper T (Tfh) cells are essential for efficient humoral immune responses. Zeng et al. identify mTOR signaling and glucose metabolism as critical regulators of Tfh cell differentiation in response to foreign antigen challenge and at steady state in Peyer’s patches.