iNKT cells are a unique lineage of T cells that recognize glycolipid presented by CD1d. In the thymus, they differentiate into iNKT1, iNKT2 and iNKT17 effector subsets, characterized by preferential expression of Tbet, Gata3 and ROR-γt and production of IFN-γ, IL-4 and IL-17, respectively. We demonstrate that the transcriptional regulator Runx1 is essential for the generation of ROR-γt expressing iNKT17 cells. PLZF-cre Runx1 cKO mice lack iNKT17 cells in the thymus, spleen and liver. Runx1-deficient iNKT cells have altered expression of several genes important for iNKT17 differentiation, including decreased expression of IL-7Rα, BATF and c-Maf and increased expression of Bcl11b and Lef1. However, reduction of Lef1 expression or introduction of an IL-7Rα transgene is not sufficient to correct the defect in iNKT17 differentiation, demonstrating that Runx1 is a key regulator of several genes required for iNKT17 differentiation. Loss of Runx1 leads to a severe decrease in iNKT cell numbers in the thymus, spleen and liver. The decrease in cell number is due to a combined decrease in proliferation at Stage 1 during thymic development and increased apoptosis. Thus, we describe a novel role of Runx1 in iNKT cell development and differentiation, particularly in orchestrating iNKT17 differentiation.
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