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PLoS One. 2014 Oct 16;9(10):e111044. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0111044. eCollection 2014.

Treg/IL-17 ratio and Treg differentiation in patients with COPD.

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Department of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, Key Laboratory of Pulmonary Diseases of Health Ministry, Union Hospital, Tongji Medical College, Huazhong University of Science and Technology, Wuhan, China.
Department of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, Wuhan No. 1 Hospital, Wuhan, China.



Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is characterized by chronic pulmonary and systematic inflammation. An abnormal adaptive immune response leads to an imbalance between pro- and anti-inflammatory processes. T-helper (Th), T-cytotoxic (Tc) and T-regulatory (Treg) cells may play important roles in immune and inflammatory responses. This study was conducted to clarify the changes and imbalance of cytokines and T lymphocyte subsets in patients with COPD, especially during acute exacerbations (AECOPD).


Twenty-three patients with stable COPD (SCOPD) and 21 patients with AECOPD were enrolled in the present study. In addition, 20 age-, sex- and weight-matched non-smoking healthy volunteers were included as controls. The serum levels of selected cytokines (TGF-β, IL-10, TNF-α, IL-17 and IL-9) were measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) kits. Furthermore, the T lymphocyte subsets collected from peripheral blood samples were evaluated by flow cytometry after staining with anti-CD3-APC, anti-CD4-PerCP, anti-CD8- PerCP, anti-CD25-FITC and anti-FoxP3-PE monoclonal antibodies. Importantly, to remove the confounding effects of inflammatory factors, the authors introduced a concept of "inflammation adjustment" and corrected each measured value using representative inflammatory markers, such as TNF-α and IL-17.


Unlike the other cytokines, serum TGF-β levels were considerably higher in patients with AECOPD relative to the control group regardless of adjustment. There were no significant differences in the percentages of either CD4+ or CD8+ T cells among the three groups. Although Tregs were relatively upregulated during acute exacerbations, their capacities of generation and differentiation were far from sufficient. Finally, the authors noted that the ratios of Treg/IL-17 were similar among groups.


These observations suggest that in patients with COPD, especially during acute exacerbations, both pro-inflammatory and anti-inflammatory reactions are strengthened, with the pro-inflammatory reactions dominating. Although the Treg/IL-17 ratios were normal, the regulatory T cells were still insufficient to suppress the accompanying increases in inflammation. All of these changes suggest a complicated mechanism of pro- and anti-inflammatory imbalance which needs to be further investigated.

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