Transcriptional programming of dendritic cells for enhanced MHC class II antigen presentation

CD11b+ dendritic cells (DCs) seem to be specialized for presenting antigens via major histocompatibility (MHC) class II complexes to stimulate helper T cells, but the genetic and regulatory basis for this is not established. Conditional deletion of Irf4 resulted in loss of CD11b+ DCs, impaired formation of peptide–MHC class II complexes and defective priming of helper T cells but not of cytotoxic T lymphocyte (CTL) responses. Gene expression and chromatin immunoprecipitation followed by deep sequencing (ChIP-Seq) analyses delineated an IRF4-dependent regulatory module that programs enhanced MHC class II antigen presentation. Expression of the transcription factor IRF4 but not of IRF8 restored the ability of IRF4-deficient DCs to efficiently process and present antigen to MHC class II–restricted T cells and promote helper T cell responses. We propose that the evolutionary divergence of IRF4 and IRF8 facilitated the specialization of DC subsets for distinct modes of antigen presentation and priming of helper T cell versus CTL responses.