Mitochondrial dysfunction promotes the transition of precursor to terminally exhausted T cells through HIF-1α-mediated glycolytic reprogramming

Hao Wu, Xiufeng Zhao, Sophia M. Hochrein, Miriam Eckstein, Gabriela F. Gubert, Konrad Knöpper, Ana Maria Mansilla, Arman Öner, Remi Doucet-Ladevèze, Werner Schmitz, Bart Ghesquière, Sebastian Theurich, Jan Dudek, Georg Gasteiger, Alma Zernecke, Sebastian Kobold, Wolfgang Kastenmüller, Martin Vaeth*

*Korrespondierende/r Autor/-in für diese Arbeit
1 Zitat (Scopus)


T cell exhaustion is a hallmark of cancer and persistent infections, marked by inhibitory receptor upregulation, diminished cytokine secretion, and impaired cytolytic activity. Terminally exhausted T cells are steadily replenished by a precursor population (Tpex), but the metabolic principles governing Tpex maintenance and the regulatory circuits that control their exhaustion remain incompletely understood. Using a combination of gene-deficient mice, single-cell transcriptomics, and metabolomic analyses, we show that mitochondrial insufficiency is a cell-intrinsic trigger that initiates the functional exhaustion of T cells. At the molecular level, we find that mitochondrial dysfunction causes redox stress, which inhibits the proteasomal degradation of hypoxia-inducible factor 1α (HIF-1α) and promotes the transcriptional and metabolic reprogramming of Tpex cells into terminally exhausted T cells. Our findings also bear clinical significance, as metabolic engineering of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cells is a promising strategy to enhance the stemness and functionality of Tpex cells for cancer immunotherapy.

ZeitschriftNature Communications
PublikationsstatusVeröffentlicht - 12.2023

Strategische Forschungsbereiche und Zentren

  • Forschungsschwerpunkt: Infektion und Entzündung - Zentrum für Infektions- und Entzündungsforschung Lübeck (ZIEL)
  • Zentren: Center for Research on Inflammation of the Skin (CRIS)


  • 205-19 Dermatologie
  • 204-05 Immunologie