T cells are nodal players in the adaptive immune response against pathogens and malignant cells. Alternative splicing plays a crucial role in T cell activation, which is analyzed mainly at later time points upon stimulation. Here we have discovered a 2-h time window early after stimulation where optimal splicing efficiency or, more generally, gene expression efficiency is crucial for successful T cell activation. Reducing the splicing efficiency at 4 to 6 h poststimulation significantly impaired murine T cell activation, which was dependent on the expression dynamics of the Egr1–Nab2–interleukin-2 (IL-2) pathway. This time window overlaps the time of peak IL-2 de novo transcription, which, we suggest, represents a permissive time window in which decreased splicing (or transcription) efficiency reduces mature IL-2 production, thereby hampering murine T cell activation. Notably, the distinct expression kinetics of the Egr1–Nab2–IL-2 pathway between mouse and human render human T cells refractory to this vulnerability. We propose that the rational temporal modulation of splicing or transcription during peak de novo expression of key effectors can be used to fine-tune stimulation-dependent biological outcomes. Our data also show that critical consideration is required when extrapolating mouse data to the human system in basic and translational research.

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