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J Immunol. 2007 Nov 15;179(10):6749-61.

Developmental exposure to noninherited maternal antigens induces CD4+ T regulatory cells: relevance to mechanism of heart allograft tolerance.

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  • 1Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Cellular and Molecular Pathology, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI 53706, USA.


We hypothesize that developmental exposure to noninherited maternal Ags (NIMA) results in alloantigen-specific natural and adaptive T regulatory (T(R)) cells. We compared offspring exposed to maternal H-2(d) (NIMA(d)) with nonexposed controls. In vitro assays did not reveal any differences in T cell responses pretransplant. Adoptive transfer assays revealed lower lymphoproliferation and greater cell surface TGF-beta expression on CD4(+) T cells of NIMA(d)-exposed vs control splenocytes. NIMA(d)-exposed splenocytes exhibited bystander suppression of tetanus-specific delayed-type hypersensitivity responses, which was reversed with Abs to TGF-beta and IL-10. Allospecific T effector cells were induced in all mice upon i.v. challenge with B6D2F1 splenocytes or a DBA/2 heart transplant, but were controlled in NIMA(d)-exposed mice by T(R) cells to varying degrees. Some (40%) NIMA(d)-exposed mice accepted a DBA/2 allograft while others (60%) rejected in delayed fashion. Rejector and acceptor NIMA(d)-exposed mice had reduced T effector responses and increased Foxp3(+) T(R) cells (CD4(+)CD25(+)Foxp3(+) T(R)) in spleen and lymph nodes compared with controls. The key features distinguishing NIMA(d)-exposed acceptors from all other mice were: 1) higher frequency of IL-10- and TGF-beta-producing cells primarily in the CD4(+)CD25(+) T cell subset within lymph nodes and allografts, 2) a suppressed delayed-type hypersensitivity response to B6D2F1 Ags, and 3) allografts enriched in LAP(+), Foxp3(+), and CD4(+) T cells, with few CD8(+) T cells. We conclude that the beneficial NIMA effect is due to induction of NIMA-specific T(R) cells during ontogeny. Their persistence in the adult, and the ability of the host to mobilize them to the graft, may determine whether NIMA-specific tolerance is achieved.

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