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PLoS One. 2011;6(9):e24671. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0024671. Epub 2011 Sep 14.

Selective recruitment of regulatory T cell through CCR6-CCL20 in hepatocellular carcinoma fosters tumor progression and predicts poor prognosis.

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Key Laboratory of Combined Multi-organ Transplantation, Ministry of Public Health, First Affiliated Hospital, Zhejiang University School of Medicine, Hangzhou, China.



Regulatory T cells (Tregs) are highly prevalent in tumor tissue and can suppress effective anti-tumor immune responses. However, the source of the increased tumor-infiltrating Tregs and their contribution to cancer progression remain poorly understood.


We here investigated the frequency, phenotype and trafficking property of Tregs and their prognostic value in patients with hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Our results showed that FoxP3(+) Tregs highly aggregated and were in an activated phenotype (CD69(+)HLA-DR(high)) in the tumor site, where they can suppress the proliferation and INF-γ secretion of CD4(+)CD25(-) T cells. These tumor-infiltrating Tregs could be selectively recruited though CCR6-CCL20 axis as illustrated by (a) high expression of CCR6 on circulating Tregs and their selective migration to CCR6 ligand CCL20, and (b) correlation of distribution and expression between tumor-infiltrating Tregs and intratumoral CCL20. In addition, we found that the number of tumor-infiltrating Tregs was associated with cirrhosis background (P = 0.011) and tumor differentiation (P = 0.003), and was an independent prognostic factor for overall survival (HR = 2.408, P = 0.013) and disease-free survival (HR = 2.204, P = 0.041). The increased tumor-infiltrating Tregs predicted poorer prognosis in HCC patients.


The CCL20-CCR6 axis mediates the migration of circulating Tregs into tumor microenvironment, which in turn results in tumor progression and poor prognosis in HCC patients. Thus, blocking CCL20-CCR6 axis-mediated Treg migration may be a novel therapeutic target for HCC.

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