Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Cellular, Molecular and Biomedical Sciences

First Advisor

Ralph C. Budd

Second Advisor

Albert van der Vliet


During an immune response, T cell activation is mirrored by a dramatic metabolic shift from oxidative phosphorylation to glycolysis. The upregulation of glycolysis allows the cell to generate the molecules needed to rapidly proliferate and to synthesize effector molecules. The resolution of the T cell response is characterized by equally fast death of most effector T cells. The remaining T cells shift back to oxidative phosphorylation, allowing the cell to survive as a memory T cell. The upregulation of glycolysis and proliferation during the effector phase is paralleled by an increased sensitivity to T cell receptor restimulation-induced cell death (RICD). Whereas cellular metabolism and cell death are important in the proper function and response of T cells, it is not clear how metabolism regulates susceptibility to cell death, nor whether T cell proliferation and contraction are directly connected. The work presented in this dissertation provides a mechanistic link between T cell proliferation and contraction by demonstrating the regulation of caspase-3 activity by the metabolic state of T cells.

In effector T cells, the cytokine interleukin (IL)-2 mediates the upregulation of glycolysis, while IL-15 induces oxidative phosphorylation and a memory-like state. IL-2 is known to sensitize T cells to RICD, while IL-15 reduces RICD and increases survival. This results from the ability of IL-2 and glycolysis to increase caspase-3 activity, whereas IL-15 induces the opposite phenotype. Activation of caspase-3 during glycolysis is mediated through clustering in lipid rafts in the plasma membrane. IL-15 is shown to inactivate caspase-3 through the posttranslational modification of protein glutathionylation, which is mediated by ROS generation in the mitochondria as a by-product of oxidative phosphorylation.

We further observe that glycolysis parallels the reduced activity of the electron transport chain and oxidative phosphorylation, further increasing caspase-3 activity. This is mediated by the decreased expression of electron transport chain complexes and an increase in expression of the negative regulator of complex I, methylation-controlled J protein (MCJ). IL-15 promotes reduced expression of MCJ by its methylation. Similar to IL-15-cultured T cells, MCJ-deficient T cells manifest reduced glycolysis, caspase-3 activity, and RICD. Collectively, these findings demonstrate an adaptation that links metabolism to both cell proliferation and cell death to safeguard that proliferating cells do not escape regulation that could result in autoimmune disease or lymphomas.



Number of Pages

198 p.