T cells selectively filter oscillatory signals on the minutes timescale.
Abstract: T cells experience complex temporal patterns of stimulus via receptor-ligand-binding interactions with surrounding cells. From these temporal patterns, T cells are able to pick out antigenic signals while establishing self-tolerance. Although features such as duration of antigen binding have been examined, our understanding of how T cells interpret signals with different frequencies or temporal stimulation patterns is relatively unexplored. We engineered T cells to respond to light as a stimulus by building an optogenetically controlled chimeric antigen receptor (optoCAR). We discovered that T cells respond to minute-scale oscillations of activation signal by stimulating optoCAR T cells with tunable pulse trains of light. Systematically scanning signal oscillation period from 1 to 150 min revealed that expression of CD69, a T cell activation marker, reached a local minimum at a period of ∼25 min (corresponding to 5 to 15 min pulse widths). A combination of inhibitors and genetic knockouts suggest that this frequency filtering mechanism lies downstream of the Erk signaling branch of the T cell response network and may involve a negative feedback loop that diminishes Erk activity. The timescale of CD69 filtering corresponds with the duration of T cell encounters with self-peptide-presenting APCs observed via intravital imaging in mice, indicating a potential functional role for temporal filtering in vivo. This study illustrates that the T cell signaling machinery is tuned to temporally filter and interpret time-variant input signals in discriminatory ways.