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PLoS One. 2012;7(2):e30695. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0030695. Epub 2012 Feb 1.

Accumulation of CCR4⁺CTLA-4 FOXP3⁺CD25(hi) regulatory T cells in colon adenocarcinomas correlate to reduced activation of conventional T cells.

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Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Institute of Biomedicine, University of Gothenburg, Göteborg, Sweden.



Colorectal cancer usually gives rise to a specific anti-tumor immune response, but for unknown reasons the resulting immunity is not able to clear the tumor. Recruitment of activated effector lymphocytes to the tumor is important for efficient anti-tumor responses, while the presence of regulatory T cells (Treg) down-modulate tumor-specific immunity. We therefore aimed to determine homing mechanisms and activation stage of Treg and effector T cell infiltrating colon tumors compared to cells from the unaffected mucosa in patients suffering from colon adenocarcinoma.


Lymphocytes were isolated from unaffected and tumor mucosa from patients with colon adenocarcinoma, and flow cytometry, immunohistochemistry, and quantitative PCR was used to investigate the homing mechanisms and activation stage of infiltrating Treg and conventional lymphocytes. We detected significantly higher frequencies of CD25(high)FOXP3⁺CD127(low) putative Treg in tumors than unaffected mucosa, which had a complete demethylation in the FOXP3 promotor. Tumor-associated Treg had a high expression of CTLA-4, and some appeared to be antigen experienced effector/memory cells based on their expression of αEβ7 (CD103). There were also significantly fewer activated T cells and more CTLA-4⁺ conventional T cells susceptible to immune regulation in the tumor-associated mucosa. In contrast, CD8⁺granzyme B⁺ putative cytotoxic cells were efficiently recruited to the tumors. The frequencies of cells expressing α4β7 and the Th1 associated chemokine receptor CXCR3 were significantly decreased among CD4⁺ T cells in the tumor, while frequencies of CD4⁺CCR4⁺ lymphocytes were significantly increased.


This study shows that CCR4⁺CTLA4(hi) Treg accumulate in colon tumors, while the frequencies of activated conventional Th1 type T cells are decreased. The altered lymphocyte composition in colon tumors will probably diminish the ability of the immune system to effectively attack tumor cells, and reducing the Treg activity is an important challenge for future immunotherapy protocols.

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