Activated T cells complicate the identification of regulatory T cells in rheumatoid arthritis

Nicolaas E Aerts, Evelyne J Dombrecht, Didier G Ebo, Chris H Bridts, Wim J Stevens, Luc S De Clerck
Cellular Immunology 2008, 251 (2): 109-15
Most cell surface markers for CD4(+)CD25(+) regulatory T cells (Tregs) are also expressed by activated non-regulatory T cells. Recently, CD127 down-regulation was found to identify functional Tregs in healthy individuals, but there are no data from patients with inflammatory conditions. We examined peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) from rheumatoid arthritis patients with active inflammation and from healthy controls, and found that CD4(+) T cells contained an equal proportion of CD25(+)CD127(-)/low cells in both groups. In patients, not all these cells expressed intracellular FOXP3. Upon activation by anti-CD3/anti-CD28, PBMC rapidly down-regulated CD127, while FOXP3 up-regulation was transitory and occurred in fewer cells. The activated cells were not anergic to restimulation and had no suppressive effects. The distinct kinetics indicate that the FOXP3(-)CD127(-)/low cells in rheumatoid arthritis patients most likely represent activated non-regulatory T cells. This complicates the use of CD127 for identification of Tregs in inflammatory diseases.

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