During the immune response, CD4+ T cells differentiate into distinct effector subtypes, including follicular helper T (Tfh) cells that help B cells, and into memory cells. Tfh and memory cells are required for long-term immunity; both depend on the transcription factor Bcl6, raising the question whether they differentiate through similar mechanisms. Here, using single-cell RNA and ATAC sequencing, we show that virus-responding CD4+ T cells lacking both Bcl6 and Blimp1 can differentiate into cells with transcriptomic, chromatin accessibility, and functional attributes of memory cells but not of Tfh cells. Thus, Bcl6 promotes memory cell differentiation primarily through its repression of Blimp1. These findings demonstrate that distinct mechanisms underpin the differentiation of memory and Tfh CD4+ cells and define the Bcl6–Blimp1 axis as a potential target for promoting long-term memory T cell differentiation.

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