Anergic CD4+ Th cells do not produce IL-2 when challenged with Ag-pulsed accessory cells because of a transcriptional defect. In this work, we report that these anergic T cells are defective in their ability to up-regulate protein binding and transactivation at two critical IL-2 DNA enhancer elements: NF-AT (nuclear factor of activated T cells; a sequence that binds a heterotrimeric NFATp, Fos, and Jun protein complex) and Activator Protein-1 (AP-1) (that binds Fos and Jun heterodimers). Western blot analysis of nuclear extracts showed that the impaired DNA-protein interactions in anergic T cells were associated with poor expression of the inducible AP-1 family members c-Fos, FosB, and JunB. However, the reduced expression of these proteins was not the result of a global TCR/CD3-signaling defect because CD3 cross-linking induced an equivalent increase in intracellular-free calcium ions, as well as NFATp dephosphorylation, translocation to the nucleus, and DNA binding in both normal and anergic T cells. Thus, defective IL-2 gene transcription appears to be due, at least in part, to a selective block in the expression of the AP-1 Fos and Jun family members in anergic T cells.

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