The transcription factor (TF) interferon regulatory factor-4 (IRF4) promotes both germinal center (GC) reactions and plasma cell (PC) differentiation by binding to alternative DNA motifs including AP-1-IRF composite elements, Ets-IRF composite elements (EICEs), and interferon sequence response elements (ISREs). Although all of these motifs mediate transcriptional activation by IRF4, it is still unknown how some of the IRF4 target genes are downregulated upon PC differentiation. Here, we revealed a molecular mechanism of IRF4- mediated gene downregulation during PC differentiation. By combining IRF4 chromatin immunoprecipitation sequence and gene expression analysis, we identified zinc finger-IRF composite elements (ZICEs) in IRF4 binding regions aligned with genes whose expression was downregulated in PCs. The zinc finger TFs Ikaros and Aiolos were identified as IRF4 binding partners in PCs, and Ikaros but not Aiolos was essential for IRF4 binding to the ZICE sequence and for PC differentiation. The Ebf1 gene, which positively controls B-cell activation and GC reactions, was identified as one of the Ikaros/IRF4 target genes. Importantly, while the ZICE embeds the ISRE motif, IRF4 bound the ZICE motif as heterodimers with Ikaros for repression of target genes, which include Ebf1. In contrast, if the zinc finger motif is juxtaposed to the EICE motif, the Ikaros/PU.1/IRF4 complex functioned to activate target gene expression. Our findings revealed a novel mode of IRF4 activity upon PC differentiation where upon forming an Ikaros/IRF4 DNA-bound complex, a subset of genes is repressed.
ASJC Scopus subject areas