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J Immunol. 2011 Mar 1;186(5):2780-91. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.1001188. Epub 2011 Jan 28.

Human cord blood CD4+CD25hi regulatory T cells suppress prenatally acquired T cell responses to Plasmodium falciparum antigens.

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Center for Global Health and Diseases, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH 44106, USA.


In malaria endemic regions, a fetus is often exposed in utero to Plasmodium falciparum blood-stage Ags. In some newborns, this can result in the induction of immune suppression. We have previously shown these modulated immune responses to persist postnatally, with a subsequent increase in a child's susceptibility to infection. To test the hypothesis that this immune suppression is partially mediated by malaria-specific regulatory T cells (T(regs)) in utero, cord blood mononuclear cells (CBMC) were obtained from 44 Kenyan newborns of women with and without malaria at delivery. CD4(+)CD25(lo) T cells and CD4(+)CD25(hi) FOXP3(+) cells (T(regs)) were enriched from CBMC. T(reg) frequency and HLA-DR expression on T(regs) were significantly greater for Kenyan as compared with North American CBMC (p < 0.01). CBMC/CD4(+) T cells cultured with P. falciparum blood-stage Ags induced production of IFN-γ, IL-13, IL-10, and/or IL-5 in 50% of samples. Partial depletion of CD25(hi) cells augmented the Ag-driven IFN-γ production in 69% of subjects with malaria-specific responses and revealed additional Ag-reactive lymphocytes in previously unresponsive individuals (n = 3). Addition of T(regs) to CD4(+)CD25(lo) cells suppressed spontaneous and malaria Ag-driven production of IFN-γ in a dose-dependent fashion, until production was completely inhibited in most subjects. In contrast, T(regs) only partially suppressed malaria-induced Th2 cytokines. IL-10 or TGF-β did not mediate this suppression. Thus, prenatal exposure to malaria blood-stage Ags induces T(regs) that primarily suppress Th1-type recall responses to P. falciparum blood-stage Ags. Persistence of these T(regs) postnatally could modify a child's susceptibility to malaria infection and disease.

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