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Immunity. 2013 Nov 14;39(5):949-62. doi: 10.1016/j.immuni.2013.10.016.

Self-antigen-driven activation induces instability of regulatory T cells during an inflammatory autoimmune response.

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Diabetes Center, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA 94143, USA.


Stable Foxp3 expression is crucial for regulatory T (Treg) cell function. We observed that antigen-driven activation and inflammation in the CNS promoted Foxp3 instability selectively in the autoreactive Treg cells that expressed high amounts of Foxp3 before experimental autoimmune encephalitis induction. Treg cells with a demethylated Treg-cell-specific demethylated region in the Foxp3 locus downregulated Foxp3 transcription in the inflamed CNS during the induction phase of the response. Stable Foxp3 expression returned at the population level with the resolution of inflammation or was rescued by IL-2-anti-IL-2 complex treatment during the antigen priming phase. Thus, a subset of fully committed self-antigen-specific Treg cells lost Foxp3 expression during an inflammatory autoimmune response and might be involved in inadequate control of autoimmunity. These results have important implications for Treg cell therapies and give insights into the dynamics of the Treg cell network during autoreactive CD4(+) T cell effector responses in vivo.

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