T cell anergy is an important peripheral tolerance mechanism. We studied how T cell anergy is established using an anergy model in which the Zap70 hypermorphic mutant W131A is coexpressed with the OTII TCR transgene (W131AOTII). Anergy was established in the periphery, not in the thymus. Contrary to enriched tolerance gene signatures and impaired TCR signaling in mature peripheral CD4 T cells, CD4SP thymocytes exhibited normal TCR signaling in W131AOTII mice. Importantly, the maintenance of T cell anergy in W131AOTII mice required antigen presentation via MHC-II. We investigated the functional importance of the inhibitory receptor PD-1 and the E3 ubiquitin ligases Cbl-b and Grail in this model. Deletion of each did not affect expression of phenotypic markers of anergic T cells or T reg numbers. However, deletion of Cbl-b, but not Grail or PD-1, in W131AOTII mice restored T cell responsiveness and signaling. Thus, Cbl-b plays an essential role in the establishment and/or maintenance of unresponsiveness in T cell anergy.

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