CD4+ CD25+ [corrected] regulatory T cells render naive CD4+ CD25- T cells anergic and suppressive

Miao Qiao, Angela M Thornton, Ethan M Shevach
Immunology 2007, 120 (4): 447-55
CD4(+) CD25(+) Foxp3(+) naturally occurring regulatory T cells (nTreg) are potent inhibitors of almost all immune responses. However, it is unclear how this minor population of cells is capable of exerting its powerful suppressor effects. To determine whether nTreg mediate part of their suppressor function by rendering naive T cells anergic or by converting them to the suppressor phenotype, we cocultured mouse nTreg with naive CD4(+) CD25(-) T cells from T-cell receptor (TCR) transgenic mice on a RAG deficient (RAG(-/-)) background in the presence of anti-CD3 and interleukin-4 (IL-4) to promote cell viability. Two distinct responder cell populations could be recovered from the cocultures. One population remained undivided in the coculture and was non-responsive to restimulation with anti-CD3 or exogenous IL-2, and could not up-regulate IL-2 mRNA or CD25 expression upon TCR restimulation. Those responder cells that had divided in the coculture were anergic to restimulation with anti-CD3 but responded to restimulation with IL-2. The undivided population was capable of suppressing the response of fresh CD4(+) CD25(-) T cells and CD8(+) T cells, while the divided population was only marginally suppressive. Although cell contact between the induced regulatory T cell (iTreg) and the responders was required for suppression to be observed, anti-transforming growth factor-beta partially abrogated their suppressive function. The iTreg did not express Foxp3. Therefore nTreg are not only able to suppress immune responses by inhibiting cytokine production by CD4(+) CD25(-) responder cells, but also appear to modulate the responder cells to render them both anergic and suppressive.

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