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J Immunol. 2003 Dec 15;171(12):6431-41.

IL-15 and cognate antigen successfully expand de novo-induced human antigen-specific regulatory CD4+ T cells that require antigen-specific activation for suppression.

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  • 1Department for Blood Transfusion and Transplantation Immunology, University Medical Center, Nijmegen, The Netherlands.


An important prerequisite in using regulatory T cells for immunotherapy is their ex vivo expansion without loss of suppressor function. Human anergic regulatory T cells are expandable by Ag-specific stimulation in the presence of IL-2. IL-15, like IL-2, is a T cell growth factor that, in contrast to IL-2, stimulates survival of T cells. In this study, we examined whether IL-15 could be exploited as a superior growth factor of human CD4(+) anergic regulatory T cells that were generated by costimulation blockade. Next, IL-15, as compared with IL-2, was investigated with respect to expansion and function of these regulatory T cells. Optimal expansion required cognate allogeneic stimulation in the presence of exogenous IL-15. IL-15 resulted in enhanced survival that was paralleled by an increased number of Bcl-2-expressing cells. Moreover, IL-15 induced a distinct type of anergy characterized by hyperreactivity to IL-15, resulting in improved expansion. This is likely attributed to increased propensity of these cells to up-regulate both alpha- and gamma-chains of the IL-2 and IL-15 receptor. Notably, IL-15-expanded regulatory CD4(+) T cells suppressed both naive and memory T cells in a superior way. Immunosuppression required alloantigen-specific stimulation and appeared gamma-irradiation resistant and independent of IL-10, TGFbeta, or CTLA-4 interactions. These regulatory T cells were stable suppressors, mediating bystander suppression upon TCR stimulation, but leaving recall responses unaffected in the absence of cognate Ag. Finally, human naturally occurring regulatory CD4(+)CD25(+) T cells appeared important in generating regulatory T cells by costimulation blockade. In conclusion, IL-15-expanded, de novo-induced human anergic regulatory CD4(+) T cells are of interest in Ag-specific immunotherapy.

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