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Arthritis Rheum. 2012 Aug;64(8):2548-58. doi: 10.1002/art.34513.

Antigen-specific transforming growth factor β-induced Treg cells, but not natural Treg cells, ameliorate autoimmune arthritis in mice by shifting the Th17/Treg cell balance from Th17 predominance to Treg cell predominance.

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University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA 90033, USA.



Transferred CD4+CD25+FoxP3+ Treg cells can prevent autoimmune disease, but generally fail to ameliorate established disease. This study was undertaken to compare the effects of antigen-specific Treg cells induced with interleukin-2 (IL-2) and transforming growth factor β (TGFβ) ex vivo (induced Treg [iTreg] cells) to the effects of equivalent expanded thymus-derived natural Treg (nTreg) cells on established collagen-induced arthritis (CIA).


CIA was induced in DBA/1 mice by immunization with type II collagen (CII), and before or shortly after immunization, mice were treated with iTreg or nTreg cells that were generated or expanded in vitro. Clinical scores were determined. Inflammatory responses were determined by measuring the levels of anti-CII antibody in the serum and examining the histologic features of the mouse joints. The Th1/Th17-mediated autoreactive response was evaluated by determining the cytokine profile of the draining lymph node (LN) cells of the mice by flow cytometry.


Following transfer, nTreg cells exhibited decreased FoxP3 and Bcl-2 expression and decreased suppressive activity, and many converted to Th17 cells. In contrast, transferred iTreg cells were more numerous, retained FoxP3 expression and their suppressive activity in the presence of IL-6, and were resistant to Th17 conversion. Notably, 10 days after the transfer of donor iTreg cells, predominance was shifted from Th17 cells to Treg cells in the draining LNs of recipient mice.


These findings provide evidence that transferred TGFβ-induced iTreg cells are more stable and functional than nTreg cells in mice with established autoimmunity. Moreover, iTreg cells can have tolerogenic effects even in the presence of ongoing inflammation. The therapeutic potential of human iTreg cells in subjects with chronic, immune-mediated inflammatory diseases should be investigated.

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