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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Aug 11;106(32):13439-44. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0901965106. Epub 2009 Jul 28.

Expression of GARP selectively identifies activated human FOXP3+ regulatory T cells.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology, NYU Cancer Institute and New York University School of Medicine, New York, NY 10016, USA.


The molecules that define human regulatory T cells (Tregs) phenotypically and functionally remain to be fully characterized. We recently showed that activated human Tregs express mRNA for a transmembrane protein called glycoprotein A repetitions predominant (GARP, or LRRC32). Here, using a GARP-specific mAb, we demonstrate that expression of GARP on activated Tregs correlates with their suppressive capacity. However, GARP was not induced on T cells activated in the presence of TGFbeta, which expressed high levels of FOXP3 and lacked suppressive function. Ectopic expression of FOXP3 in conventional T cells was also insufficient for induction of GARP expression in most donors. Functionally, silencing GARP in Tregs only moderately attenuated their suppressive activity. CD25+ T cells sorted for high GARP expression displayed more potent suppressive activity compared with CD25+GARP- cells. Remarkably, CD25+GARP- T cells expanded in culture contained 3-5 fold higher IL-17-secreting cells compared with either CD25+GARP+ or CD25-GARP- cells, suggesting that high GARP expression can potentially discriminate Tregs from those that have switched to Th17 lineage. We also determined whether GARP expression correlates with FOXP3-expressing T cells in human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) -infected subjects. A subset of HIV+ individuals with high percentages of FOXP3+ T cells did not show proportionate increase in GARP+ T cells. This finding suggests that higher FOXP3 levels observed in these HIV+ individuals is possibly due to immune activation rather than to an increase in Tregs. Our findings highlight the significance of GARP both in dissecting duality of Treg/Th17 cell differentiation and as a marker to identify bona fide Tregs during diseases with chronic immune activation.

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