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Atherosclerosis. 2013 Jul;229(1):263-70. doi: 10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2013.05.007. Epub 2013 May 16.

FOXP3 demethylation as a means of identifying quantitative defects in regulatory T cells in acute coronary syndrome.

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  • 1Department of Geriatrics, Tongji Hospital, Tongji Medical College, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan, China.



The contribution of regulatory T cells (Tregs) to the pathogenesis of acute coronary syndrome (ACS) remains poorly understood. One core obstacle is the lack of Treg-specific markers. A highly conserved CpG enriched element in forkhead box P3 intron 1 (FOXP3 i l) is unmethylated only in Tregs, and measuring the unmethylation of FOXP3 i l can be used to identify the role of Tregs in clinical diseases. This study investigated whether analyzing the demethylation status of FOXP3 i 1 is a more reliable means than using Treg-specific surface markers in ACS.


We evaluated circulating Tregs percentages on different levels including cell frequencies (CD4(+)CD25(hi)FOXP3(+)Tregs and CD4(+)CD25(hi)CD45(+)naïve Tregs) or FOXP3 mRNA, FOXP3 i 1 demethylation status and related cytokine secretion in 89 patients with ACS and 35 controls. FOXP3 i 1 demethylation assay showed that the amount of Tregs in ACS patients was significantly reduced than that in controls (p = 0.0005). However, flow cytometry analysis did not identify any reduction of CD4(+)CD25(hi)FOXP3(+)Tregs in ACS patients. Notably, younger patients had higher percentage of CD4(+)CD25(hi)FOXP3(+)Tregs but decreased percentage of CD4(+)CD25(hi)CD45(+)naïve Tregs than either controls or older patients. Furthermore, a DNA hypomethylation agent increased the amount of CD4(+)CD25(hi)FOXP3(+)Tregs and Tregs related cytokine IL-10 and suppressed the production of pro-inflammatory cytokine interferon-γ by inducing FOXP3 i 1 demethylation in vitro.


A quantitative defect of Tregs, suggestive of decreased peripheral tolerance, could be a potential hallmark of ACS disease. Targeting FOXP3 i l demethylation might elevate the inhibitory activity of Tregs in ACS.

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