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PLoS One. 2012;7(4):e34568. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0034568. Epub 2012 Apr 23.

Natural CD4+ T-cell responses against indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase.

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Department of Hematology and Oncology, Center for Cancer Immune Therapy, Copenhagen University Hospital, Herlev, Herlev, Denmark.



The enzyme indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase (IDO) contributes to immune tolerance in a variety of settings. In cancer IDO is expressed within the tumor itself as well as in antigen-presenting cells in tumor-draining lymph nodes, where it endorses the establishment of peripheral immune tolerance to tumor antigens. Recently, we described cytotoxic CD8(+) T-cell reactivity towards IDO-derived peptides.


In the present study, we show that CD4(+) helper T cells additionally spontaneously recognize IDO. Hence, we scrutinized the vicinity of the previously described HLA-A*0201-restricted IDO-epitope for CD4(+) T-cell epitopes. We demonstrated the presence of naturally occurring IDO-specific CD4(+) T cells in cancer patients and to a lesser extent in healthy donors by cytokine release ELISPOT. IDO-reactive CD4(+) T cells released IFN-γ, TNF-α, as well as IL-17. We confirm HLA class II-restriction by the addition of HLA class II specific blocking antibodies. In addition, we detected a trend between class I- and class II-restricted IDO responses and detected an association between IDO-specific CD4(+) T cells and CD8(+) CMV-responses. Finally, we could detect IL-10 releasing IDO-reactive CD4(+) T cells.


IDO is spontaneously recognized by HLA class II-restricted, CD4(+) T cells in cancer patients and in healthy individuals. IDO-specific T cells may participate in immune-regulatory networks where the activation of pro-inflammatory IDO-specific CD4(+) responses may well overcome or delay the immune suppressive actions of the IDO-protein, which are otherwise a consequence of the early expression of IDO in maturing antigen presenting cells. In contrast, IDO-specific regulatory T cells may enhance IDO-mediated immune suppression.

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