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J Immunol. 2011 Oct 1;187(7):3511-20. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.1003880. Epub 2011 Aug 24.

Low-dose antigen promotes induction of FOXP3 in human CD4+ T cells.

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  • 1Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason, Seattle, WA 98101, USA.


Low Ag dose promotes induction and persistence of regulatory T cells (Tregs) in mice, yet few studies have addressed the role of Ag dose in the induction of adaptive CD4(+)FOXP3(+) Tregs in humans. To this end, we examined the level of FOXP3 expression in human CD4(+)CD25(-) T cells upon activation with autologous APCs and varying doses of peptide. Ag-specific T cells expressing FOXP3 were identified by flow cytometry using MHC class II tetramer (Tmr). We found an inverse relationship between Ag dose and the frequency of FOXP3(+) cells for both foreign Ag-specific and self Ag-specific T cells. Through studies of FOXP3 locus demethylation and helios expression, we determined that variation in the frequency of Tmr(+)FOXP3(+) T cells was not due to expansion of natural Tregs, but instead, we found that induction, proliferation, and persistence of FOXP3(+) cells was similar in high- and low-dose cultures, whereas proliferation of FOXP3(-) T cells was favored in high Ag dose cultures. The frequency of FOXP3(+) cells positively correlated with suppressive function, indicative of adaptive Treg generation. The frequency of FOXP3(+) cells was maintained with IL-2, but not upon restimulation with Ag. Together, these data suggest that low Ag dose favors the transient generation of human Ag-specific adaptive Tregs over the proliferation of Ag-specific FOXP3(-) effector T cells. These adaptive Tregs could function to reduce ongoing inflammatory responses and promote low-dose tolerance in humans, especially when Ag exposure and tolerance is transient.

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