T cell activation is a critical driver of immune response and if uncontrolled, it can result in failure to respond to infection or in excessive inflammation and autoimmunity. CD28 costimulatory pathway is an essential regulator of CD4 T cell responses. To deconvolute how T cell receptor (TCR) and CD28 orchestrate activation of human CD4 T cells we stimulated cells using varying intensities of TCR and CD28 signals followed by gene expression profiling. We demonstrate that T-helper differentiation and cytokine expression are controlled by CD28. Strikingly, cell cycle and cell division are sensitive to CD28 in memory cells, but under TCR control in naive cells, in contrast to the paradigm that memory cells are CD28-independent. Using a combination of chromatin accessibility and enhancer profiling, we observe that IRFs and Blimp-1 (PRDM1) motifs are enriched in naive and memory T cells in response to TCR. In contrast, memory cells initiate AP1 transcriptional regulation only when both TCR and CD28 are engaged, implicating CD28 as an amplifier of transcriptional programmes in memory cells. Lastly, we show that CD28-sensitive genes are enriched in autoimmune disease loci, pointing towards the role of memory cells and the regulation of T cell activation through CD28 in autoimmune disease development. This study provides important insights into the differential role of CD28 in naive and memory T cell responses and offers a new platform for design and interpretation of costimulatory based therapies.
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