Follicular helper T (Tfh) cells comprise an important subset of helper T cells; however, their relationship with other helper lineages is incompletely understood. Herein, we showed interleukin-12 acting via the transcription factor STAT4 induced both Il21 and Bcl6 genes, generating cells with features of both Tfh and Th1 cells. However, STAT4 also induced the transcription factor T-bet. With ChIP-seq, we defined the genome-wide targets of T-bet and found that it repressed Bcl6 and other markers of Tfh cells, thereby attenuating the nascent Tfh cell-like phenotype in the late phase of Th1 cell specification. Tfh-like cells were rapidly generated after Toxoplasma gondii infection in mice, but T-bet constrained Tfh cell expansion and consequent germinal center formation and antibody production. Our data argue that Tfh and Th1 cells share a transitional stage through the signal mediated by STAT4, which promotes both phenotypes. However, T-bet represses Tfh cell functionalities, promoting full Th1 cell differentiation.
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