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J Exp Med. 2008 Dec 22;205(13):3105-17. doi: 10.1084/jem.20081359. Epub 2008 Dec 8.

Antigen-specific peripheral shaping of the natural regulatory T cell population.

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Department of Medicine, Division of Rheumatology, Washington University School of Medicine, St Louis, MO 63110, USA.


Although regulatory T (T reg) cells are thought to develop primarily in the thymus, the peripheral events that shape the protective T reg cell population are unclear. We analyzed the peripheral CD4(+) T cell receptor (TCR) repertoire by cellular phenotype and location in mice with a fixed TCRbeta chain. We found that T reg (Foxp3(+)) cells showed a marked skewing of TCR usage by anatomical location in a manner similar to antigen-experienced (CD44(hi)Foxp3(-)) but not naive (CD44(lo)Foxp3(-)) cells, even though CD44(hi) and T reg cells used mostly dissimilar TCRs. This was likely unrelated to peripheral conversion, which we estimate generates only a small percentage of peripheral T reg cells in adults. Conversion was readily observed, however, during the immune response induced by Foxp3(-) cells in lymphopenic hosts. Interestingly, the converted Foxp3(+) and expanded Foxp3(-) TCR repertoires were different, suggesting that generation of Foxp3(+) cells is not an automatic process upon antigen activation of Foxp3(-) T cells. Retroviral expression of these TCRs in primary monoclonal T cells confirmed that conversion did not require prior cellular conditioning. Thus, these data demonstrate that TCR specificity plays a crucial role in the process of peripheral conversion and in shaping the peripheral T reg cell population to the local antigenic landscape.

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