T follicular helper (Tfh) cells are a subset of CD4+ T cells that are essential in the pathogenesis of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Notably, iron is required for activated CD4+ T lymphocytes to sustain high proliferation and metabolism. In this issue of the JCI, Gao et al. showed that CD4+ T cells from patients with SLE accumulated iron, augmenting their differentiation into Tfh cells and correlating with disease activity. Using human cells and murine models, the authors demonstrated that miR-21 was overexpressed in lupus T cells and inhibited 3-hydroxybutyrate dehydrogenase-2 (BDH2). The subsequent loss of BDH2 drove labile iron to accumulate in the cytoplasm and promoted TET enzyme activity, BCL6 gene demethylation, and Tfh cell differentiation. This work identifies a role for iron in CD4+ T cell biology and the development of pathogenic effectors in SLE. We await future investigations that could determine whether modulating iron levels could regulate Tfh cells in human health and disease.
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