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The success of the CD8 T cell-mediated immune response against infections and tumors depends on the formation of a long-lived memory pool, and the protection of effector cells from exhaustion. The advent of checkpoint blockade therapy has significantly improved anti-tumor therapeutic outcomes by reversing CD8 T cell exhaustion, but fails to generate effector cells with memory potential. Here, using in vivo mouse models, we show that let-7 miRNAs determine CD8 T cell fate, where maintenance of let-7 expression during early cell activation results in memory CD8 T cell formation and tumor clearance. Conversely, let-7-deficiency promotes the generation of a terminal effector population that becomes vulnerable to exhaustion and cell death in immunosuppressive environments and fails to reject tumors. Mechanistically, let-7 restrains metabolic changes that occur during T cell activation through the inhibition of the PI3K/AKT/mTOR signaling pathway and production of reactive oxygen species, potent drivers of terminal differentiation and exhaustion. Thus, our results reveal a role for let-7 in the time-sensitive support of memory formation and the protection of effector cells from exhaustion. Overall, our data suggest a strategy in developing next-generation immunotherapies by preserving the multipotency of effector cells rather than enhancing the efficacy of differentiation.

Original publication




Journal article


Nat Commun

Publication Date





Animals, Mice, Phosphatidylinositol 3-Kinases, Neoplasms, Antibodies, CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes, Cell Differentiation