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Nat Med. 2005 Nov;11(11):1238-43. Epub 2005 Oct 16.

Lymphopenia and interleukin-2 therapy alter homeostasis of CD4+CD25+ regulatory T cells.

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  • 1Pediatric Oncology Branch, National Institutes of Health, 10 Center Drive, Bethesda, Maryland 20892, USA.


CD4(+)CD25(+) regulatory T (T(reg)) cells have a crucial role in maintaining immune tolerance. Mice and humans born lacking T(reg) cells develop severe autoimmune disease, and depletion of T(reg) cells in lymphopenic mice induces autoimmunity. Interleukin (IL)-2 signaling is required for thymic development, peripheral expansion and suppressive activity of T(reg) cells. Animals lacking IL-2 die of autoimmunity, which is prevented by administration of IL-2-responsive T(reg) cells. In light of the emerging evidence that one of the primary physiologic roles of IL-2 is to generate and maintain T(reg) cells, the question arises as to the effects of IL-2 therapy on them. We monitored T(reg) cells during immune reconstitution in individuals with cancer who did or did not receive IL-2 therapy. CD4(+)CD25(hi) cells underwent homeostatic peripheral expansion during immune reconstitution, and in lymphopenic individuals receiving IL-2, the T(reg) cell compartment was markedly increased. Mouse studies showed that IL-2 therapy induced expansion of existent T(reg) cells in normal hosts, and IL-2-induced T(reg) cell expansion was further augmented by lymphopenia. On a per-cell basis, T(reg) cells generated by IL-2 therapy expressed similar levels of FOXP3 and had similar potency for suppression compared to T(reg) cells present in normal hosts. These studies suggest that IL-2 and lymphopenia are primary modulators of CD4(+)CD25(+) T(reg) cell homeostasis.

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