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Gastroenterology. 2009 Jan;136(1):278-87. doi: 10.1053/j.gastro.2008.09.022. Epub 2008 Sep 25.

CpG motifs of bacterial DNA exert protective effects in mouse models of IBD by antigen-independent tolerance induction.

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Institute for Laboratory Animal Science and Central Animal Facility, Hannover Medical School, Hannover, Germany.



Prophylactic treatment of mice with CpG motifs of bacterial DNA protects from experimental inflammatory bowel disease, at least partly via induction of inhibitory T-cells. The aim of this study was to elucidate whether these CpG-dependent protective effects require presence of bacterial flora suggesting antigen-specific regulatory activity.


Germ-free BALB/c and IL-10(-/-) mice were treated with CpG-oligodeoxynucleotides (ODN), control-ODN, or PBS. CD4(+)CD62L(+) cells of these mice were transferred into SCID recipients. CpG-ODN-treated germ-free IL-10(-/-) mice were transferred into colitogenic environment. Monoclonal antibodies were used to neutralize TGF-beta and IFN-alpha/beta during CpG-ODN treatment. CD4(+)CD62L(+) cells of donors were evaluated for cytokine secretion and FOXP3, PD-1, and CD25 expression.


Compared to PBS or control-ODN treatment, CpG-ODN application to germ-free donors led to decreased intestinal inflammation as indicated by histology, decreased proinflammatory cytokines, and increased IL-10 secretion. Protection was also observed after cotransfer of cells from PBS and CpG-ODN treated donors. Anti-TGF-beta and anti-INF-alpha/beta partly reversed the protective CpG-ODN effect. CpG-ODN-treated germ-free IL-10(-/-) mice transferred into colitogenic environment developed significantly less colitis than controls but not recipients of IL-10(-/-)CD4(+)CD62L(+)cells. CD4(+)CD62L(+)cells of CpG-treated germ-free animals displayed increased expression of regulatory markers.


Even without pre-existence of bacterial flora CpG-ODN exposition induces tolerance, indicating that CpG-ODN-induced regulatory T-cells are not bacterial antigen specific. TGF-beta and IFN-alpha/beta play major roles in induction of regulatory cells, and although IL10-independent mechanisms play a role in CpG-ODN protection, this cytokine likely is important for the effector mechanism of CpG-ODN-induced regulatory T-cells.

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