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Exp Eye Res. 2012 Jan;94(1):32-40. doi: 10.1016/j.exer.2011.11.002. Epub 2011 Nov 16.

Retinoic acid from retinal pigment epithelium induces T regulatory cells.

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Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Science, Tokyo Medical and Dental University Graduate School of Medicine, 1-5-45 Yushima, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-8519, Japan.


Primary cultured retinal pigment epithelial (RPE) cells can convert T cells into T regulatory cells (Tregs) through inhibitory factor(s) including transforming growth factor β (TGFβ) in vitro. Retinoic acid (RA) enhances induction of CD4(+) Tregs in the presence of TGFβ. We investigated whether RA produced by RPE cells can promote generation of Tregs. We found that in vitro, RA-treated T cells expressed high levels of Foxp3 in the presence of recombinant TGFβ. In GeneChip analysis, cultured RPE cells constitutively expressed RA-associated molecules such as RA-binding proteins, enzymes, and receptors. RPE from normal mice, but not vitamin A-deficient mice, contained significant levels of TGFβ. RPE-induced Tregs from vitamin A-deficient mice failed to suppress activation of target T cells. Only a few Foxp3(+) T cells were found in intraocular cells from vitamin A-deficient experimental autoimmune uveitis (EAU) mice, whereas expression was higher in cells from normal EAU mice. RA receptor antagonist-pretreated or RA-binding protein-siRNA-transfected RPE cells failed to convert CD4(+) T cells into Tregs. Our data support the hypothesis that RPE cells produce RA, thereby enabling bystander T cells to be converted into Tregs through TGFβ promotion, which can then participate in the establishment of immune tolerance in the eye.

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