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J Immunol. 2008 Sep 1;181(5):3137-47.

Reprogrammed FoxP3+ T regulatory cells become IL-17+ antigen-specific autoimmune effectors in vitro and in vivo.

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  • 1Department of Immunology, College of Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN 55905, USA.


Lymphocyte differentiation from naive CD4(+) T cells into mature Th1, Th2, Th17, or T regulatory cell (Treg) phenotypes has been considered end stage in character. In this study, we demonstrate that dendritic cells (DCs) activated with a novel immune modulator B7-DC XAb (DC(XAb)) can reprogram Tregs into T effector cells. Down-regulation of FoxP3 expression after either in vitro or in vivo Treg-DC(XAb) interaction is Ag-specific, IL-6-dependent, and results in the functional reprogramming of the mature T cell phenotype. The reprogrammed Tregs cease to express IL-10 and TGFbeta, fail to suppress T cell responses, and gain the ability to produce IFN-gamma, IL-17, and TNF-alpha. The ability of IL-6(+) DC(XAb) and the inability of IL-6(-/-) DC(XAb) vaccines to protect animals from lethal melanoma suggest that exogenously modulated DC can reprogram host Tregs. In support of this hypothesis and as a test for Ag specificity, transfer of DC(XAb) into RIP-OVA mice causes a break in immune tolerance, inducing diabetes. Conversely, adoptive transfer of reprogrammed Tregs but not similarly treated CD25(-) T cells into naive RIP-OVA mice is also sufficient to cause autoimmune diabetes. Yet, treatment of normal mice with B7-DC XAb fails to elicit generalized autoimmunity. The finding that mature Tregs can be reprogrammed into competent effector cells provides new insights into the plasticity of T cell lineage, underscores the importance of DC-T cell interaction in balancing immunity with tolerance, points to Tregs as a reservoir of autoimmune effectors, and defines a new approach for breaking tolerance to self Ags as a strategy for cancer immunotherapy.

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