First published September 5, 2019 - More info
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a devastating autoimmune disease, in which hyperactive T cells play a critical role. Understanding molecular mechanisms underlying the T cell hyperactivity will lead to identification of specific therapeutic targets. Serine/arginine-rich splicing factor (SRSF)1 is an essential RNA-binding protein which controls posttranscriptional gene expression. We have demonstrated that SRSF1 levels are aberrantly decreased in T cells from SLE patients and correlate with severe disease, yet the role of SRSF1 in T cell physiology and autoimmune disease is largely unknown. Here we show that T cell-restricted Srsf1-deficient mice develop systemic autoimmunity and lupus-nephritis. Mice exhibit increased frequencies of activated/effector T cells producing proinflammatory cytokines, and an elevated T cell activation gene signature. Mechanistically, we noted increased activity of the mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathway and reduced expression of its repressor PTEN. The mTOR complex (mTORC)1 inhibitor rapamycin suppressed proinflammatory cytokine production by T cells and alleviated autoimmunity in Srsf1-deficient mice. Of direct clinical relevance, PTEN levels correlated with SRSF1 in T cells from SLE patients, and SRSF1 overexpression rescued PTEN, suppressed mTORC1 activation and proinflammatory cytokine production. Our studies reveal the role of a previously unrecognized molecule SRSF1 in restraining T cell activation and averting the development of autoimmune disease and a potential therapeutic target for lupus.