Antibodies produced by plasma cells are critical for protection from infection. It has been demonstrated that global epigenetic modification, such as changes in DNA methylation, occurs during differentiation of plasma cells from B cells. However, the precise mechanisms by which DNA methylation controls plasma cell differentiation are not fully understood. We examined the effect of deficiency of DNA demethylases, Tet2 and Tet3, on B-cell activation and plasma cell differentiation, by generating conditional Tet2/3 double-KO (Tet dKO) B cells. We found that Tet dKO B cells failed to differentiate into plasma cells upon immunization with antigens. Tet dKO B cells proliferated normally and were capable of generating cells with IRF4int, but not with IRF4hi, the majority of which were CD138+ plasma cells. IRF4 overexpression rescued the defect of Tet dKO B cells in plasma cell differentiation, suggesting that Tet2/3-dependent high IRF4 expression is required for plasma cell differentiation. We identified CpG sites in the Irf4 locus that were demethylated specifically in plasma cells and in a Tet2/3-dependent manner. Our results suggest that Tet2/3-dependent demethylation of these CpG sites is dispensable for initial IRF4 expression but is essential for high IRF4 expression which is prerequisite for plasma cell differentiation.
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