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Mucosal Immunol. 2016 Mar;9(2):428-43. doi: 10.1038/mi.2015.73. Epub 2015 Aug 19.

Low-level regulatory T-cell activity is essential for functional type-2 effector immunity to expel gastrointestinal helminths.

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Institute of Immunology and Infection Research, and Centre for Immunity, Infection and Evolution, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK.
Bioceros Holding BV, Utrecht, The Netherlands.
TwinCore, Hannover, Germany.
Division of Molecular Immunology, German Cancer Research Center, Heidelberg, Germany.


Helminth infection is frequently associated with the expansion of regulatory T cells (Tregs) and suppression of immune responses to bystander antigens. We show that infection of mice with the chronic gastrointestinal helminth Heligmosomoides polygyrus drives rapid polyclonal expansion of Foxp3(+)Helios(+)CD4(+) thymic (t)Tregs in the lamina propria and mesenteric lymph nodes while Foxp3(+)Helios(-)CD4(+) peripheral (p)Treg expand more slowly. Notably, in partially resistant BALB/c mice parasite survival positively correlates with Foxp3(+)Helios(+)CD4(+) tTreg numbers. Boosting of Foxp3(+)Helios(+)CD4(+) tTreg populations by administration of recombinant interleukin-2 (rIL-2):anti-IL-2 (IL-2C) complex increased worm persistence by diminishing type-2 responsiveness in vivo, including suppression of alternatively activated macrophage and granulomatous responses at the sites of infection. IL-2C also increased innate lymphoid cell (ILC) numbers, indicating that Treg functions dominate over ILC effects in this setting. Surprisingly, complete removal of Tregs in transgenic Foxp3-DTR mice also resulted in increased worm burdens, with "immunological chaos" evident in high levels of the pro-inflammatory cytokines IL-6 and interferon-γ. In contrast, worm clearance could be induced by anti-CD25 antibody-mediated partial depletion of early Treg, alongside increased T helper type 2 responses and without incurring pathology. These findings highlight the overarching importance of the early Treg response to infection and the non-linear association between inflammation and the prevailing Treg frequency.

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