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Summary

Analysis of T-helper cell differentiation to T-helper type 1 (Th1) and Th2 lineages has begun to reveal a complex mechanism whereby transcription factors, enzymes that either deposit or remove covalent modifications from histone tails and DNA methylating enzymes are recruited to cytokine genes. Each resultant cell lineage subsequently displays a programme of transcriptional restrictions that firstly, facilitates expression of a particular subset of signature cytokines and secondly, silences expression of the cytokines normally recognized as being markers of the opposite differentiation limb. Some essential proteins in this differentiative paradigm, such as the transcription factors GATA3 and T-bet, are well studied; however, the types of enzymatic activities that these proteins recruit in order to implement differentiation are more obscure. Recent genome-wide studies of histone modifications have begun to clarify how specific modifications of histones impact upon both transcriptional regulation and chromatin organization. Here we review how this information has enlightened our knowledge of how Th1/Th2 differentiation is orchestrated.