Dendritic cells (DCs) are critical for the differentiation of pathogen-specific CD4 T cells. However, to what extent innate cues from DCs dictate transcriptional changes in T cells remains elusive. Here, we used DCs stimulated with specific pathogens to prime CD4 T cells in vitro and found that these T cells express unique transcriptional profiles dictated by the nature of the priming pathogen. More specifically, the transcriptome of in vitro C. rodentium–primed Th17 cells resembled that of Th17 cells primed following infection in vivo but was remarkably distinct from cytokine-polarized Th17 cells. We identified caspase-1 as a unique gene up-regulated only in pathogen-primed Th17 cells and discovered a critical role for T cell–intrinsic caspase-1, independent of inflammasome, in optimal priming of Th17 responses. T cells lacking caspase-1 failed to induce colitis or confer protection against C. rodentium infection due to suboptimal Th17 cell differentiation in vivo. This study underlines the importance of DC-mediated priming in identifying novel regulators of T cell differentiation.

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