The Development and Function of Memory Regulatory T Cells
Naturally occurring CD4+CD25+Foxp3+ regulatory T cells (TReg) are a cell lineage that develops in the thymus and exits to the periphery, where they represent 5-10% of the peripheral CD4+ T cell population. Phenotypically, they are characterized by the expression of the cell surface markers CD25, as known as the IL-2 receptor alpha chain, glucocorticoid-induced tumor necrosis factor receptor (GITR), and cytotoxic T-lymphocyte antigen-4 (CTLA-4), as well as forkhead box P3 (Foxp3), a transcription factor considered to be the most specific TReg marker. Functionally, TReg cells are defined by their ability to suppress the activation of multiple cell types including CD4+ and CD8+ T cells, B cells, natural killer (NK) cells, and dendritic cells (DCs). Suppression can be achieved by the production of immunosuppressive cytokines or direct cell-to-cell contact, with these mechanisms directly affecting suppressed cells or indirectly affecting them by modulating antigen presenting cells (APCs). The suppressive abilities of TReg cells are crucial in maintaining dominant tolerance--the active, trans-acting suppression of the immune system for the prevention of autoimmune diseases. In addition to preventing autoimmune diseases, studies have also demonstrated critical roles for TReg cells in down-modulating anti-tumor immunity, suppressing allergic diseases, such as asthma, and achieving transplant tolerance. Recent studies have also demonstrated roles for TReg cells during pathogen infection, which will be the focus of this thesis.
Studies examining TReg cells during infection have largely focused on chronic infection models. These studies have shown that TReg cells can affect responses to pathogens in various ways that can be beneficial or detrimental for either the host or the invading pathogen. In some infections, TReg cells downregulation effector responses, which can lead to pathogen persistence and, in some cases, concomitant immunity. TReg cell-mediated suppression can also reduce immunopathology at sites of infection, which can occur as a result of a vigorous anti-pathogen immune response.
In contrast to chronic infection, how TReg cells behave and function following acute infections remains largely unknown as, to date, very few studies have been conducted. Current work with acute infection models has indicated that TReg cells affect immune responses in some acute infection models, but not in all. Furthermore, the results of these studies have implicated that current approaches to examine TReg cells during acute infection by depleting the total TReg cell repertoire, as opposed to targeting pathogen-specific TReg cells, may not be ideal. Finally, it is unclear what happens to activated TReg cells following the resolution of infection.
Due to the lack of knowledge about the role of pathogen-specific TReg cells during acute infection, we sought to employ a different approach to address some of the outstanding questions in the field. Here, we utilized CD4+ non-TReg and TReg cells from T cell receptor (TCR) transgenic mice that recognize a pathogen-specific epitope found in three different models of acute viral infection: recombinant vaccinia virus, recombinant adenovirus, and influenza. Using this model system, we were able to track pathogen-specific TReg cells following acute viral infection to determine their kinetics during the course of infection, as well as their influence on CD4+ non-TReg cells during different times after infection. We also employed major histocompatibility complex (MHC) Class II tetramer technology to track the fate of endogenous pathogen-specific TReg cells following infection with influenza.
Using these models systems, we show that pathogen-specific TReg cells can be activated and expand upon acute viral infections in vivo. The activated TReg cells then contract to form a "memory" pool after resolution of the infection. These "memory" TReg cells expand rapidly upon a secondary challenge, secrete large amounts of IL-10, and suppress excessive immunopathology, which is elicited by the expansion of non-TReg cells, via an IL-10-dependent mechanism. The work presented in this thesis reveals a previously unknown "memory" TReg cell population that develops after acute viral infections and may help design effective strategies to circumvent excessive immunopathology.
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