Concept: T cells
Graft-versus-host disease is one of the major transplant-related complications in allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation. Continued efforts have been made to prevent the occurrence of severe graft-versus-host disease by eliminating or suppressing donor-derived effector T cells. Conventional immunosuppression does not adequately prevent graft-versus-host disease, especially in mismatched transplants. Unfortunately, elimination of donor-derived T cells impairs stem cell engraftment, and delays immunologic reconstitution, rendering the recipient susceptible to post-transplant infections and disease relapse, with potentially lethal consequences. In this review, we discuss the role of dynamic immune regulation in controlling graft-versus-host disease, and how cell-based therapies are being developed using regulatory T cells and other tolerogenic cells for the prevention and treatment of graft-versus-host disease. In addition, advances in the design of cytoreductive conditioning regimens to selectively target graft-versus-host disease-inducing donor-derived T cells that have improved the safety of allogeneic stem cell transplantation are reviewed. Finally, we discuss advances in our understanding of the tolerogenic facilitating cell population, a phenotypically and functionally distinct population of bone marrow-derived cells which promote hematopoietic stem cell engraftment while reducing the risk of graft-versus-host disease.
Human FOXP3(+)CD25(+)CD4(+) regulatory T cells (Tregs) are essential to the maintenance of immune homeostasis. Several genes are known to be important for murine Tregs, but for human Tregs the genes and underlying molecular networks controlling the suppressor function still largely remain unclear. Here, we describe a strategy to identify the key genes directly from an undirected correlation network which we reconstruct from a very high time-resolution (HTR) transcriptome during the activation of human Tregs/CD4(+) T-effector cells. We show that a predicted top-ranked new key gene PLAU (the plasminogen activator urokinase) is important for the suppressor function of both human and murine Tregs. Further analysis unveils that PLAU is particularly important for memory Tregs and that PLAU mediates Treg suppressor function via STAT5 and ERK signaling pathways. Our study demonstrates the potential for identifying novel key genes for complex dynamic biological processes using a network strategy based on HTR data, and reveals a critical role for PLAU in Treg suppressor function.
Regulatory T (Treg) cell infiltration constitutes a prominent feature of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDA). However, the immunomodulatory function of Treg cells in PDA is poorly understood. Here, we demonstrate that Treg cell ablation is sufficient to evoke effective anti-tumor immune response in early and advanced pancreatic tumorigenesis in mice. This response is dependent on interferon-γ (IFN-γ)-producing cytotoxic CD8(+) T cells. We show that Treg cells engage in extended interactions with tumor-associated CD11c(+) dendritic cells (DCs) and restrain their immunogenic function by suppressing the expression of costimulatory ligands necessary for CD8(+) T cell activation. Consequently, tumor-associated CD8(+) T cells fail to display effector activities when Treg cell ablation is combined with DC depletion. We propose that tumor-infiltrating Treg cells can promote immune tolerance by suppressing tumor-associated DC immunogenicity. The therapeutic manipulation of this axis might provide an effective approach for the targeting of PDA.
Clinical and experimental studies have shown that estradiol (E2) confers protection against HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Here, we investigated the underlying mechanism. Better protection in E2-treated mice, immunized against genital HSV-2, coincided with earlier recruitment and higher proportions of Th1 and Th17 effector cells in the vagina post-challenge, compared to placebo-treated controls. Vaginal APCs isolated from E2-treated mice induced 10-fold higher Th17 and Th1 responses, compared to APCs from progesterone-treated, placebo-treated, and estradiol-receptor knockout mice in APC-T cell co-cultures. CD11c+ DCs in the vagina were the predominant APC population responsible for priming these Th17 responses, and a potent source of IL-6 and IL-1β, important factors for Th17 differentiation. Th17 responses were abrogated in APC-T cell co-cultures containing IL-1β KO, but not IL-6 KO vaginal DCs, showing that IL-1β is a critical factor for Th17 induction in the genital tract. E2 treatment in vivo directly induced high expression of IL-1β in vaginal DCs, and addition of IL-1β restored Th17 induction by IL-1β KO APCs in co-cultures. Finally, we examined the role of IL-17 in anti-HSV-2 memory T cell responses. IL-17 KO mice were more susceptible to intravaginal HSV-2 challenge, compared to WT controls, and vaginal DCs from these mice were defective at priming efficient Th1 responses in vitro, indicating that IL-17 is important for the generation of efficient anti-viral memory responses. We conclude that the genital mucosa has a unique microenvironment whereby E2 enhances CD4+ T cell anti-viral immunity by priming vaginal DCs to induce Th17 responses through an IL-1-dependent pathway.
Immune tolerance is executed partly by Foxp3(+)regulatory T (Treg) cells, which suppress autoreactive T cells. In autoimmune type 1 diabetes (T1D) impaired tolerance promotes destruction of insulin-producing β-cells. The development of autoantigen-specific vaccination strategies for Foxp3(+)Treg-induction and prevention of islet autoimmunity in patients is still in its infancy. Here, using human haematopoietic stem cell-engrafted NSG-HLA-DQ8 transgenic mice, we provide direct evidence for human autoantigen-specific Foxp3(+)Treg-induction in vivo. We identify HLA-DQ8-restricted insulin-specific CD4(+)T cells and demonstrate efficient human insulin-specific Foxp3(+)Treg-induction upon subimmunogenic vaccination with strong agonistic insulin mimetopes in vivo. Induced human Tregs are stable, show increased expression of Treg signature genes such as Foxp3, CTLA4, IL-2Rα and TIGIT and can efficiently suppress effector T cells. Such Foxp3(+)Treg-induction does not trigger any effector T cells. These T1D vaccine candidates could therefore represent an expedient improvement in the challenge to induce human Foxp3(+)Tregs and to develop novel precision medicines for prevention of islet autoimmunity in children at risk of T1D.
Despite their importance, the molecular circuits that control the differentiation of naive T cells remain largely unknown. Recent studies that reconstructed regulatory networks in mammalian cells have focused on short-term responses and relied on perturbation-based approaches that cannot be readily applied to primary T cells. Here we combine transcriptional profiling at high temporal resolution, novel computational algorithms, and innovative nanowire-based perturbation tools to systematically derive and experimentally validate a model of the dynamic regulatory network that controls the differentiation of mouse TH17 cells, a proinflammatory T-cell subset that has been implicated in the pathogenesis of multiple autoimmune diseases. The TH17 transcriptional network consists of two self-reinforcing, but mutually antagonistic, modules, with 12 novel regulators, the coupled action of which may be essential for maintaining the balance between TH17 and other CD4+ T-cell subsets. Our study identifies and validates 39 regulatory factors, embeds them within a comprehensive temporal network and reveals its organizational principles; it also highlights novel drug targets for controlling TH17 cell differentiation.
Aberrant T-cell activation underlies many autoimmune disorders, yet most attempts to induce T-cell tolerance have failed. Building on previous strategies for tolerance induction that exploited natural mechanisms for clearing apoptotic debris, we show that antigen-decorated microparticles (500-nm diameter) induce long-term T-cell tolerance in mice with relapsing experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis. Specifically, intravenous infusion of either polystyrene or biodegradable poly(lactide-co-glycolide) microparticles bearing encephalitogenic peptides prevents the onset and modifies the course of the disease. These beneficial effects require microparticle uptake by marginal zone macrophages expressing the scavenger receptor MARCO and are mediated in part by the activity of regulatory T cells, abortive T-cell activation and T-cell anergy. Together these data highlight the potential for using microparticles to target natural apoptotic clearance pathways to inactivate pathogenic T cells and halt the disease process in autoimmunity.
The mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR) pathway integrates diverse environmental inputs, including immune signals and metabolic cues, to direct T-cell fate decisions. The activation of mTOR, which is the catalytic subunit of the mTORC1 and mTORC2 complexes, delivers an obligatory signal for the proper activation and differentiation of effector CD4(+) T cells, whereas in the regulatory T-cell (Treg) compartment, the Akt-mTOR axis is widely acknowledged as a crucial negative regulator of Treg-cell de novo differentiation and population expansion. However, whether mTOR signalling affects the homeostasis and function of Treg cells remains largely unexplored. Here we show that mTORC1 signalling is a pivotal positive determinant of Treg-cell function in mice. Treg cells have elevated steady-state mTORC1 activity compared to naive T cells. Signals through the T-cell antigen receptor (TCR) and interleukin-2 (IL-2) provide major inputs for mTORC1 activation, which in turn programs the suppressive function of Treg cells. Disruption of mTORC1 through Treg-specific deletion of the essential component raptor leads to a profound loss of Treg-cell suppressive activity in vivo and the development of a fatal early onset inflammatory disorder. Mechanistically, raptor/mTORC1 signalling in Treg cells promotes cholesterol and lipid metabolism, with the mevalonate pathway particularly important for coordinating Treg-cell proliferation and upregulation of the suppressive molecules CTLA4 and ICOS to establish Treg-cell functional competency. By contrast, mTORC1 does not directly affect the expression of Foxp3 or anti- and pro-inflammatory cytokines in Treg cells, suggesting a non-conventional mechanism for Treg-cell functional regulation. Finally, we provide evidence that mTORC1 maintains Treg-cell function partly through inhibiting the mTORC2 pathway. Our results demonstrate that mTORC1 acts as a fundamental ‘rheostat’ in Treg cells to link immunological signals from TCR and IL-2 to lipogenic pathways and functional fitness, and highlight a central role of metabolic programming of Treg-cell suppressive activity in immune homeostasis and tolerance.
Regulatory T cells (Tregs) prevent autoimmunity but limit antitumor immunity. The canonical NF-κB signaling pathway both activates immunity and promotes thymic Treg development. Here, we report that mature Tregs continue to require NF-κB signaling through IκB-kinase β (IKKβ) after thymic egress. Mice lacking IKKβ in mature Tregs developed scurfy-like immunopathology due to death of peripheral FoxP3(+) Tregs. Also, pharmacological IKKβ inhibition reduced Treg numbers in the circulation by ∼50% and downregulated FoxP3 and CD25 expression and STAT5 phosphorylation. In contrast, activated cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) were resistant to IKKβ inhibition because other pathways, in particular nuclear factor of activated T cells (NFATc1) signaling, sustained their survival and expansion. In a melanoma mouse model, IKKβ inhibition after CTL cross-priming improved the antitumor response and delayed tumor growth. In conclusion, prolonged IKKβ inhibition decimates circulating Tregs and improves CTL responses when commenced after tumor vaccination, indicating that IKKβ represents a druggable checkpoint.
Immune checkpoint blockade produces clinical benefit in many patients. However, better biomarkers of response are still needed, and mechanisms of resistance remain incompletely understood. To address this, we recently studied a cohort of melanoma patients treated with sequential checkpoint blockade against cytotoxic T lymphocyte antigen-4 (CTLA-4) followed by programmed death receptor-1 (PD-1) and identified immune markers of response and resistance. Building on these studies, we performed deep molecular profiling including T cell receptor sequencing and whole-exome sequencing within the same cohort and demonstrated that a more clonal T cell repertoire was predictive of response to PD-1 but not CTLA-4 blockade. Analysis of CNAs identified a higher burden of copy number loss in nonresponders to CTLA-4 and PD-1 blockade and found that it was associated with decreased expression of genes in immune-related pathways. The effect of mutational load and burden of copy number loss on response was nonredundant, suggesting the potential utility of a combinatorial biomarker to optimize patient care with checkpoint blockade therapy.