Immune homeostasis in the intestine is tightly controlled by FOXP3+ regulatory T cells (Tregs), defects in which are linked to development of chronic conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). As a mechanism of immune evasion, several species of intestinal parasites boost Treg activity. The parasite Heligmosomoides polygyrus is known to secrete a molecule (Hp-TGM) which mimics the ability of TGF-β to induce FOXP3 expression in CD4+ T cells. We aimed to investigate whether Hp-TGM could induce human FOXP3+ Tregs as a potential therapeutic approach for inflammatory diseases. CD4+ T cells from healthy volunteers were expanded in the presence of Hp-TGM or TGF-β. Treg induction was measured by flow cytometric detection of FOXP3 and other Treg markers, such as CD25 and CTLA-4. Epigenetic changes were detected using ChIP-Seq and pyrosequencing of FOXP3. Treg phenotype stability was assessed following inflammatory cytokine challenge and Treg function was evaluated by cellular co-culture suppression assays and cytometric bead arrays for secreted cytokines. Hp-TGM efficiently induced FOXP3 expression (> 60%), in addition to CD25 and CTLA-4, and caused epigenetic modification of the FOXP3 locus to a greater extent than TGF-β. Hp-TGM-induced Tregs had superior suppressive function compared to TGF-β-induced Tregs, and retained their phenotype following exposure to inflammatory cytokines. Furthermore, Hp-TGM induced a Treg-like phenotype in in vivo differentiated Th1 and Th17 cells, indicating its potential to re-program memory cells to enhance immune tolerance. These data indicate Hp-TGM has potential to be used to generate stable human FOXP3+ Tregs to treat IBD and other inflammatory diseases.
- regulatory T cells
- host parasite interactions
- inflammatory disease
- transforming growth factor beta