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Blood. 2006 Sep 1;108(5):1571-9. Epub 2006 Apr 27.

IL-2 regulates FOXP3 expression in human CD4+CD25+ regulatory T cells through a STAT-dependent mechanism and induces the expansion of these cells in vivo.

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  • 1Division of Hematologic Malignancies, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, 44 Binney St, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


IL-2 plays a critical role in the maintenance of CD4+CD25+ FOXP3(+) regulatory T cells (Tregs) in vivo. We examined the effects of IL-2 signaling in human Tregs. In vitro, IL-2 selectively up-regulated the expression of FOXP3 in purified CD4+CD25+ T cells but not in CD4+CD25- cells. This regulation involved the binding of STAT3 and STAT5 proteins to a highly conserved STAT-binding site located in the first intron of the FOXP3 gene. We also examined the effects of low-dose IL-2 treatment in 12 patients with metastatic cancer and 9 patients with chronic myelogenous leukemia after allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation. Overall, IL-2 treatment resulted in a 1.9 median fold increase in the frequency of CD4+CD25+ cells in peripheral blood as well as a 9.7 median fold increase in FOXP3 expression in CD3+ T cells. CD56+CD3- natural killer (NK) cells also expanded during IL-2 therapy but did not express FOXP3. In vitro treatment of NK cells with 5-aza-2'-deoxycytidine restored the IL-2 signaling pathway leading to FOXP3 expression, suggesting that this gene was constitutively repressed by DNA methylation in these cells. Our findings support the clinical evaluation of low-dose IL-2 to selectively modulate CD4+CD25+ Tregs and increase expression of FOXP3 in vivo.

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