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PLoS One. 2011;6(5):e20003. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0020003. Epub 2011 May 18.

Cell-intrinsic NF-κB activation is critical for the development of natural regulatory T cells in mice.

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  • 1Clinical Research Group at Nikolaus Fiebiger Center of Molecular Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine 3, University Hospital Erlangen, Friedrich-Alexander University of Erlangen-Nürnberg, Erlangen, Germany.



Naturally occurring CD4(+)CD25(+)Foxp3(+) regulatory T (Treg) cells develop in the thymus and represent a mature T cell subpopulation critically involved in maintaining peripheral tolerance. The differentiation of Treg cells in the thymus requires T cell receptor (TCR)/CD28 stimulation along with cytokine-promoted Foxp3 induction. TCR-mediated nuclear factor kappa B (NF-κB) activation seems to be involved in differentiation of Treg cells because deletion of components of the NF-κB signaling pathway, as well as of NF-κB transcription factors, leads to markedly decreased Treg cell numbers in thymus and periphery.


To investigate if Treg cell-intrinsic NF-κB activation is required for thymic development and peripheral homeostasis of Treg cells we used transgenic (Tg) mice with thymocyte-specific expression of a stable IκBα mutant to inhibit NF-κB activation solely within the T cell lineage. Here we show that Treg cell-intrinsic NF-κB activation is important for the generation of cytokine-responsive Foxp3(-) thymic Treg precursors and their further differentiation into mature Treg cells. Treg cell development could neither be completely rescued by the addition of exogenous Interleukin 2 (IL-2) nor by the presence of wild-type derived cells in adoptive transfer experiments. However, peripheral NF-κB activation appears to be required for IL-2 production by conventional T cells, thereby participating in Treg cell homeostasis. Moreover, pharmacological NF-κB inhibition via the IκB kinase β (IKKβ) inhibitor AS602868 led to markedly diminished thymic and peripheral Treg cell frequencies.


Our results indicate that Treg cell-intrinsic NF-κB activation is essential for thymic Treg cell differentiation, and further suggest pharmacological NF-κB inhibition as a potential therapeutic approach for manipulating this process.

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