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Clin Exp Immunol. 2009 Jun;156(3):463-70. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2249.2009.03908.x.

Characterization of regulatory T cells identified as CD4(+)CD25(high)CD39(+) in patients with active tuberculosis.

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Translational Research Unit, National Institute for Infectious Diseases (INMI) L Spallanzani, IRCCS, Rome, Italy.


Forkhead box P3 (FoxP3) is a transcription factor whose expression characterizes regulatory T cells (T(reg)), but it is also present on activated T cells, thus hindering correct T(reg) identification. Using classical markers for T(reg) recognition, discordant results were found in terms of T(reg) expansion during active tuberculosis (TB) disease. Recently CD39 has been shown to be an accurate marker for T(reg) detection. The objectives of this study were: (i) to identify T(reg) expressing CD39 in patients with TB and to compare the results with those obtained by the standard phenotypic markers; (ii) to evaluate if T(reg) are expanded in vitro by exogenous interleukin (IL)-2 or by antigen-specific stimulation; and (iii) to characterize T(reg) function on the modulation of antigen-specific responses. We enrolled 13 patients with pulmonary TB and 12 healthy controls. T(reg) were evaluated by flow cytometry ex vivo and after antigen-specific in vitro stimulation using CD25, FoxP3, CD127 and CD39 markers. Results indicate that CD39(+) cells within the CD4(+)CD25(high) cells have T(reg) properties (absence of interferon-gamma production and transforming growth factor-beta1 release upon stimulation). Ex vivo analysis did not show significant differences between TB patients and controls of T(reg) by classical or novel markers. In contrast, a significantly higher percentage of T(reg) was found in TB patients after antigen-specific stimulation both in the presence or absence of IL-2. Depletion of CD39(+) T(reg) increased RD1-specific responses significantly. In conclusion, CD39 is an appropriate marker for T(reg) identification in TB. These results can be useful for future studies to monitor Mycobacterium tuberculosis-specific response during TB.

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