The PBX1 lupus susceptibility gene regulates CD44 expression

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PBX1-d is novel splice isoform of pre-B-cell leukemia homeobox 1 (PBX1) that lacks its DNA-binding and Hox-binding domains, and functions as a dominant negative. We have shown that PBX1-d expression in CD4+ T cells is associated with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) in a mouse model as well as in human subjects. More specifically, PBX1-d expression leads to the production of autoreactive activated CD4+ T cells, a reduced frequency and function of Foxp3+ regulatory T (Treg) cells and an expansion of follicular helper T (Tfh) cells. Very little is known about the function of PBX1 in T cells, except that it directly regulates the expression of miRNAs associated with Treg and Tfh homeostasis. In the present study, we show that PBX1 directly regulated the expression of CD44, a marker of T cell activation. Two PBX1 binding sites in the promoter directly regulated CD44 expression, with PBX1-d driving a higher expression than the normal isoform PBX1-b. In addition, mutations in each of the two binding sites had different effects of PBX1-b and PBX1-d. Finally, we showed that an enhanced recruitment of co-factor MEIS by PBX1-d over PBX1-b, while there was no difference for co-factor PREP1 recruitment. Therefore, this study demonstrates that the lupus-associated PBX1-d isoform directly transactivates CD44, a marker of CD44 activation and memory, and that it has different DNA binding and co-factor recruitment relative to the normal isoform. Taken together, these results confirm that PBX1 directly regulates genes related to T cell activation and shows that the lupus-associated isoform PBX1-d has unique molecular functions.

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