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Open Access Research article

CD4+Foxp3+ regulatory T cells prolong drug-induced disease remission in (NZBxNZW) F1 lupus mice

Olivia Weigert, Caroline von Spee, Reinmar Undeutsch, Lutz Kloke, Jens Y Humrich* and Gabriela Riemekasten

  • * Corresponding author: Jens Y Humrich humrich@drfz.de

  • † Equal contributors

Author Affiliations

Department of Rheumatology and Clinical Immunology, Charité - University Hospital, Charitéplatz 1, 10117 Berlin, Germany

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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2013, 15:R35  doi:10.1186/ar4188

Published: 27 February 2013

Abstract

Introduction

The ability to ameliorate murine lupus renders regulatory T cells (Treg) a promising tool for the treatment of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). In consideration to the clinical translation of a Treg-based immunotherapy of SLE, we explored the potential of CD4+Foxp3+ Treg to maintain disease remission after induction of remission with an established cyclophosphamide (CTX) regimen in lupus-prone (NZBxNZW) F1 mice. As a prerequisite for this combined therapy, we also investigated the impact of CTX on the biology of endogenous Treg and conventional CD4+ T cells (Tcon).

Methods

Remission of disease was induced in diseased (NZBxNZW) F1 mice with an established CTX regimen consisting of a single dose of glucocorticosteroids followed by five day course with daily injections of CTX. Five days after the last CTX injection, differing amounts of purified CD4+Foxp3+CD25+ Treg were adoptively transferred and clinical parameters, autoantibody titers, the survival and changes in peripheral blood lymphocyte subsets were determined at different time points during the study. The influence of CTX on the numbers, frequencies and proliferation of endogenous Treg and Tcon was analyzed in lymphoid organs by flow cytometry.

Results

Apart from abrogating the proliferation of Tcon, we found that treatment with CTX induced also a significant inhibition of Treg proliferation and a decline in Treg numbers in lymphoid organs. Additional adoptive transfer of 1.5 × 106 purified Treg after the CTX regimen significantly increased the survival and prolonged the interval of remission by approximately five weeks compared to mice that received only the CTX regimen. The additional clinical amelioration was associated with an increase in the Treg frequency in the peripheral blood indicating a compensation of CTX-induced Treg deficiency by the Treg transfer.

Conclusions

Treg were capable to prolong the interval of remission induced by conventional cytostatic drugs. This study provides valuable information and a first proof-of-concept for the feasibility of a Treg-based immunotherapy in the maintenance of disease remission in SLE.