Saturday, February 25, 2012

Antigen-specific regulatory T cells can induce tolerance to immunogenic grafts without the need for chronic immunosuppression

Regulatory CD4+CD25+Foxp3+ T cells (Tregs) play an important role in the induction of allospecific tolerance. However tolerance in solid organ transplantation by mere transfer of Tregs has been difficult. Besides this the stability of the differentiation phenotype of Tregs has recently been questioned.

We therefore aimed in generating large numbers of stable allospecific Tregs from naïve T cells by retroviral transduction with Foxp3. These were tested in an immunogenic skin transplantation model (C57BL/6→BALB/c).

We established a system of transduction of mouse T cells with ecotropic retroviruses expressing Foxp3 and Thy1.1 as a surface marker to follow up transduced T cells. Alloantigen-specific Tregs were generated by stimulating naïve recipient CD4+ T cells with irradiated donor splenocytes. CD25+ and/or CD69+ allospecific recipient CD4+ T cells were isolated and transduced with Foxp3. Alloantigen-specific Foxp3 T cells (iTregs) showed high expression for the Treg markers Foxp3, CTLA4 and GITR. They could suppress a MLR in an alloantigen-specific manner. Furthermore, they could be expanded up to 18 fold in vitro while maintaining their Treg phenotype and expression of lymph node homing markers like CCR7 and CD62L. iTregs prevented skin graft rejection without the need for chronic immunosuppression and recipients showed systemic allospecific allotolerance. Alloantigen-specific Tregs were far more potent than polyspecific Tregs. Mechanisms of tolerance were graft specific homing, expansion and long-term persistence of Tregs within the graft (>100 days, 90% of intragraft Tregs were alloantigen-specific). In fact, tolerance could be transferred with re-transplantation of the tolerant graft onto secondary recipients. Third party grafts were readily rejected demonstrating specificity of tolerance. Due to the Foxp3 transduction, iTregs did not lose their Treg phenotype.

The results prove that large numbers of stable alloantigen-specific Tregs can be generated from a polyclonal repertoire of naïve T cells. This is the first time that allotolerance was achieved in a non-lymphopenic transplant model using skin grafts in an immunogenic strain combination. Therefore, antigen-specific Tregs might have a huge therapeutic potential after solid organ transplantation (read more).

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