Germinal center (GC) responses require B cells to respond to a dynamic set of intercellular and microenvironmental signals that instruct B cell positioning, differentiation, and metabolic reprogramming. RHO-associated coiled-coil–containing protein kinase 2 (ROCK2), a serine-threonine kinase that can be therapeutically targeted by ROCK inhibitors or statins, is a key downstream effector of RHOA GTPases. Although RHOA-mediated pathways are emerging as critical regulators of GC responses, the role of ROCK2 in B cells is unknown. Here, we found that ROCK2 was activated in response to key T cell signals like CD40 and IL-21 and that it regulated GC formation and maintenance. RNA-Seq analyses revealed that ROCK2 controlled a unique transcriptional program in GC B cells that promoted optimal GC polarization and cholesterol biosynthesis. ROCK2 regulated this program by restraining AKT activation and subsequently enhancing FOXO1 activity. ATAC-Seq (assay for transposase-accessible chromatin with high-throughput sequencing) and biochemical analyses revealed that the effects of ROCK2 on cholesterol biosynthesis were instead mediated via a novel mechanism. ROCK2 directly phosphorylated interferon regulatory factor 8 (IRF8), a crucial mediator of GC responses, and promoted its interaction with sterol regulatory element–binding transcription factor 2 (SREBP2) at key regulatory regions controlling the expression of cholesterol biosynthetic enzymes, resulting in optimal recruitment of SREBP2 at these sites. These findings thus uncover ROCK2 as a multifaceted and therapeutically targetable regulator of GC responses.
Edd Ricker, Yurii Chinenov, Tania Pannellini, Danny Flores-Castro, Chao Ye, Sanjay Gupta, Michela Manni, James K. Liao, Alessandra B. Pernis