Cord blood derived CD4+ CD25(high) T cells become functional regulatory T cells upon antigen encounter

Elisabeth Mayer, Christina Bannert, Saskia Gruber, Sven Klunker, Andreas Spittler, Cezmi A Akdis, Zsolt Szépfalusi, Thomas Eiwegger
PloS One 2012, 7 (1): e29355

BACKGROUND: Upon antigen exposure, cord blood derived T cells respond to ubiquitous environmental antigens by high proliferation. To date it remains unclear whether these "excessive" responses relate to different regulatory properties of the putative T regulatory cell (Treg) compartment or even expansion of the Treg compartment itself.

METHODS: Cord blood (>37 week of gestation) and peripheral blood (healthy controls) were obtained and different Treg cell subsets were isolated. The suppressive potential of Treg populations after antigen exposure was evaluated via functional inhibition assays ([(3)H]thymidine incorporation assay and CFSE staining) with or without allergen stimulation. The frequency and markers of CD4(+)CD25(high)FoxP3(+) T cells were characterized by mRNA analysis and flow cytometry.

RESULTS: Cord blood derived CD4(+)CD25(high) cells did not show substantial suppressor capacity upon TCR activation, in contrast to CD4(+)CD25(high) cells freshly purified from adult blood. This could not be explained by a lower frequency of FoxP3(+)CD4(+)CD25(high)cells or FOXP3 mRNA expression. However, after antigen-specific stimulation in vitro, these cells showed strong proliferation and expansion and gained potent suppressive properties. The efficiency of their suppressive capacity can be enhanced in the presence of endotoxins. If T-cells were sorted according to their CD127 expression, a tiny subset of Treg cells (CD4(+)CD25(+)CD127(low)) is highly suppressive even without prior antigen exposure.

CONCLUSION: Cord blood harbors a very small subset of CD4(+)CD25(high) Treg cells that requires antigen-stimulation to show expansion and become functional suppressive Tregs.

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