Estrogen-related receptor-α is a metabolic regulator of effector T-cell activation and differentiation

Ryan D. Michalek, Valerie A. Gerriets, Amanda G. Nichols, Makoto Inoue, Dmitri Kazmin, Ching Yi Chang, Mary A. Dwyer, Erik R. Nelson, Kristen N. Pollizzi, Olga Ilkayeva, Vincent Giguere, William J. Zuercher, Jonathan D. Powell, Mari L. Shinohara, Donald P. McDonnell, Jeffrey C. Rathmell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Stimulation of resting CD4 + T lymphocytes leads to rapid proliferation and differentiation into effector (Teff) or inducible regulatory (Treg) subsets with specific functions to promote or suppress immunity. Importantly, Teff and Treg use distinct metabolic programs to support subset specification, survival, and function. Here, we describe that the orphan nuclear receptor estrogen-related receptor-α (ERRα) regulates metabolic pathways critical for Teff. Resting CD4 + T cells expressed low levels of ERRα protein that increased on activation. ERRα deficiency reduced activated T-cell numbers in vivo and cytokine production in vitro but did not seem to modulate immunity through inhibition of activating signals or viability. Rather, ERRα broadly affected metabolic gene expression and glucose metabolism essential for Teff. In particular, up-regulation of Glut1 protein, glucose uptake, and mitochondrial processes were suppressed in activated ERRα -/- T cells and T cells treated with two chemically independent ERRα inhibitors or by shRNAi. Acute ERRα inhibition also blocked T-cell growth and proliferation. This defect appeared as a result of inadequate glucose metabolism, because provision of lipids, but not increased glucose uptake or pyruvate, rescued ATP levels and cell division. Additionally, we have shown that Treg requires lipid oxidation, whereas Teff uses glucose metabolism, and lipid addition selectively restored Treg - but not Teff - generation after acute ERRα inhibition. Furthermore, in vivo inhibition of ERRα reduced T-cell proliferation and Teff generation in both immunization and experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis models. Thus, ERRα is a selective transcriptional regulator of Teff metabolism that may provide a metabolic means to modulate immunity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)18348-18353
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number45
StatePublished - Nov 8 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • AMPK
  • Fatty acid
  • Glycolysis
  • Mammalian target of rapamycin
  • Oxidative metabolism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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