Systematic Analysis of Cell-to-Cell Expression Variation of T Lymphocytes in a Human Cohort Identifies Aging and Genetic Associations.
In T cells, the stochasticity of protein expression could contribute to the useful diversification of biological functions within a clonal population or interfere with accurate antigen discrimination. Combining computer modeling and single-cell measurements, we examined how endogenous variation in the expression levels of signaling proteins might affect antigen responsiveness during T cell activation. We found that the CD8 co-receptor fine-tunes activation thresholds, whereas the soluble hematopoietic phosphatase 1 (SHP-1) digitally regulates cell responsiveness. Stochastic variation in the expression of these proteins generates substantial diversity of activation within a clonal population of T cells, but co-regulation of CD8 and SHP-1 levels ultimately limits this very diversity. These findings reveal how eukaryotic cells can draw on regulated variation in gene expression to achieve phenotypic variability in a controlled manner.