Natural regulatory T cells in infectious disease
Published on: Mar 3, 2016
Transcripts - Natural regulatory T cells in infectious disease
R E G U L AT O R Y T C E L L S
© 2005 Nature Publishing Group http://www.nature.com/natureimmunology
Natural regulatory T cells in infectious
Yasmine Belkaid1,3 & Barry T Rouse2
This review discusses the control exerted by natural CD4+ CD25+ regulatory T cells (natural Treg cells) during
infectious processes. Natural Treg cells may limit the magnitude of effector responses, which may result in failure to
adequately control infection. However, natural Treg cells also help limit collateral tissue damage caused by vigorous
antimicrobial immune responses. We describe here various situations in which the balance between natural Treg cells
and effector immune functions influences the outcome of infection and discuss how manipulating this equilibrium
might be exploited therapeutically.
Infectious challenges to the host are met by a wealth of humoral and cells can respond to a large variety of self antigens, although grow-
cellular responses. Some agents are difficult to control and the host ing evidence suggests that these cells may also respond to antigens
response to them often results in tissue damage. This tissue damage expressed by microbes. Although inducible Treg cells may control
might be more intense were it not for many regulatory mechanisms various infectious processes4, our review focuses only on infections
that contain the ‘zeal’ of both innate and adaptive effector responses. for which an association with natural Treg cells has been suggested
The once-disfavored idea that suppressor cells with antigen specific- (Table 1). Understanding the unique properties of natural Treg cells
ity form part of the regulatory mechanisms has now been revital- and their mode of action may result in new therapeutic avenues use-
ized1. Indeed, it is has been conceded that several types of regulatory ful for the control of infectious diseases.
cells exist, some of which are induced in response to infectious chal- In most cases in which natural Treg cells participate in responses to
lenge and some that are considered natural regulators2,3. Inducible infection, these are chronic infections. As discussed below, the influ-
regulatory T cells (Treg cells) such as TR1 or T helper type 3 (TH3) ence of natural Treg cells may favorably affect the outcome or can be
cells can develop from conventional CD4+ T cells that are exposed to harmful to the host. However, the outcome is also affected by other
specific stimulatory conditions such as the blockade of costimulatory factors. These include the stage of infection, dose of the pathogen
signals, deactivating cytokines or drugs. These cell types have been and genotype and immunological status of the host as well as the
discussed in several reviews2,4,5. Natural Treg cells, however, arise dur- presence of concomitant disease or other infections. We also discuss
ing the normal process of maturation in the thymus and survive in whether enhanced pathogen survival is one consequence of natural
the periphery as Treg cells. This segregation between natural Treg cells Treg cell function.
and induced Treg cells could prove to be arbitrary, with the relation-
ship between the populations requiring clarification. Nevertheless, Influence of regulatory: effector cell balance
natural Treg cells obey defined rules and express a specific set of Some of the earliest studies of natural Treg cells emphasized that
markers3,6. For example, only natural Treg cells constitutively express such cells help control the extent of immune-mediated pathology.
CD25, the T cell inhibitory receptor CTLA-4 and the glucocorti- In fact, a chief function of natural Treg cells may be to respond to
coid-inducible tumor necrosis factor receptor (GITR). The unique signals associated with tissue destruction and then to minimize col-
transcription factor Foxp3 is required for the generation of natural lateral tissue damage they cause7. A well documented example of this
Treg cells, and this represents their most specific marker identified so situation is the involvement of natural Treg cells in gastrointestinal
far (reviewed by Fontenot and Rudensky6 in this issue). Natural Treg homeostasis. Commensal gut bacteria can, in cases of immune dys-
regulation, trigger harmful inflammatory diseases. Extensive work
in mouse models of colitis has demonstrated that natural Treg cells
1Division of Molecular Immunology, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Research act as chief regulators of such lesions. Adoptive transfer of naive T
Foundation, Cincinnati, Ohio 45229, USA. 2Department of Microbiology, cell populations lacking natural Treg cells into T cell–deficient mice
Walters Life Sciences Building, University of Tennessee Knoxville, Tennessee,
37996, USA. 3Present address: Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases, National
causes massive gut inflammation. Transfer of CD4+CD25+CD45RBlo
Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, T cells together with those naive T cells suppresses disease devel-
Bethesda, Maryland 20892, USA. Correspondence should be addressed to Y.B. opment, an effect mediated by interleukin-10 (IL-10), transforming
(email@example.com). growth factor-β (TGF-β) and CTLA-4. Similarly, in mice deficient in
Published online 22 March 2005; doi:10.1038/ni1181 the recombination-activating gene(s), Helicobacter hepaticus causes
NATURE IMMUNOLOGY VOLUME 6 NUMBER 4 APRIL 2005 353
mild intestinal inflammation, but this is enhanced considerably by the subsequent pathology is held in check by natural Treg cells16,17. This
adoptive transfer of CD4+CD25–CD45RBhi T cells or T cells from IL- model exemplifies the dual function of natural Treg cells during a given
10-deficient mice8,9. However, transfer of CD4+CD45RBloCD25– or infection. The early disease exacerbation in the absence of natural Treg
CD25+ cells together with those cells prevents inflammation in an cells is followed by better control of infection in the later stages of the
IL-10- and TGF-β-dependent way10. This model was the first, to our syndrome than in control mice18.
knowledge, to demonstrate that the targets of natural Treg cells could The outcome of schistosomal infection in mice depends on TH2
include components of the innate immune system as well as patho- polarization. The inhibitory effects of natural Treg cells on the TH1
genic T cells9. In T cell–deficient mice infected with Helicobacter response have been shown to promote TH2 polarization and to pro-
pylori, transfer of CD4+CD25– T cells provides better control of the tect the host from lethal inflammatory pathology19. One of the main
© 2005 Nature Publishing Group http://www.nature.com/natureimmunology
infection, but enhanced gastric inflammation also occurs11. Natural targets of natural Treg cells in this model is the production of IL-12 by
Treg cells may also control H. pylori infection in humans12. When activated dendritic cells, an inhibitory effect that is mediated by IL-10.
isolated from a chronically infected person, Treg cells are able to In the late stages of the schistosomal infection, most of the pathology
suppress H. pylori–specific T cell responses but not responses to is a granulomatous fibrosis. IL-10-producing natural Treg cells puri-
unrelated antigens12. fied from parasite egg–induced granulomas are an important factor
The preservation of host homeostasis by natural Treg cells is not for host survival20. Natural Treg cells also seem to be as important in
restricted to inflammation caused by gastrointestinal bacteria. There the disease caused by hepatitis C virus (HCV). A chief complication
is similar involvement in other infection models in which the infected of this chronic infection is massive liver damage that often requires
sites require more control. These include the lung, skin and liver as organ transplant. Liver biopsies obtained at the time of the transplant
well as the eye. For example, Pneumocystis carinii infects mice defi- show an inverse correlation between the number of natural Treg cells
cient in recombination-activating gene 2 without inducing detect- in the periphery and the histological inflammatory score21.
able pathology. The transfer of CD4+CD25– T cells results in better Control of inflammatory reaction by natural Treg cells might be
control of infection but also triggers florid pneumonitis that becomes especially important in delicate tissues such as the eye. This organ’s
lethal. This outcome can be prevented by transfer of natural Treg function requires that the path of light to the retina not be impeded
cells13. During infection of mice with Candida albicans, a reduction by defracting inflammatory cells. In a model in which a blinding
in natural Treg cell numbers induces better control of the infection, keratitis was caused by herpes virus infection induced by a CD4+ T
but unfortunately enhanced inflammatory gastrointestinal pathology cell–orchestrated reaction, lesions were much more severe in mice
also occurs14. In a nonhealing model of Leishmania major infection, whose natural Treg cells had been depleted22. Indeed in the absence of
cutaneous infection results in progressive lesions caused by a robust natural Treg cells, nonpathological doses of virus can readily induce
TH2 response15. In this model, the amplitude of the response and keratitis22.
One other consequence of the modulation
of excessive immune responses by natural
Table 1 Microbial infections for which a regulatory function for natural Treg cells has been Treg cells is enhanced pathogen survival and,
suggested in some cases, long-term persistence. Thus,
pathogen persistence may represent a ‘com-
promise’ reached by the host with pathogens
Microbe Species Antigen specificity Reference when new homeostatic conditions become
established (Table 2). The mouse model of
L. major infection in which natural Treg cells
Helicobacter hepaticus Mouse ND 8,10
are a necessary component of the pathogen’s
Human survival provides a good example of this23.
Helicobacter pylori Mouse ND 12,49 Self-healing C57BL/6 mice infected with
Human a low dose of parasites develop small self-
Listeria monocytogenes Mouse ND 38
healing lesions, and immunity to re-infection
requires persistent infection24. Natural Treg
Pneumocistis carinii Mouse ND 13
cells accumulate at sites of infection and limit
Leishmania major Mouse Yes 16–18,23,37 the efficacy of TH1 immune responses (by
Schistosoma masoni Mouse Yes 19,20 both IL-10-dependent and IL-10-indepen-
dent pathways). As a consequence, the natu-
Candida albicans Mouse ND 14,80
ral Treg cells promote pathogen persistence
Herpes simplex virus Mouse ND 22,28 and potential transmission to other hosts.
Friend virus Mouse ND 30,75 Removal of natural Treg cells leads to ‘sterile
Human immunodeficiency Human Yes 32–34,59,60
cure’, a state that is not compatible with the
virus preservation of long-term immunity23.
Hepatitis C virus Human Yes 21,35,36
Another example of this ‘entente’ between
host and pathogen has been provided by
Cytomegalovirus Human ND 32
ocular infection of mice with herpes simplex
Murine AIDS Mouse ND 31 virus (HSV). A low dose of virus infection
Feline immunodeficiency Cat ND 56,81 protects mice from CD4+ T cell–mediated
virus pathology by promoting natural Treg cells, a
situation that is compatible with the estab-
ND, not done. lishment of immunity to re-infection22.
354 VOLUME 6 NUMBER 4 APRIL 2005 NATURE IMMUNOLOGY
Table 2 Functions of Treg cells during infection
Reduced number or function of Equilibrium between natural Treg cells and Excess number or function of
natural Treg cells effector cells natural Treg cells
Host Pathogen clearance Maintenance of protective immunity
Control of excessive immune responses
© 2005 Nature Publishing Group http://www.nature.com/natureimmunology
Microbe Persistence and/or transmission Transmission
Host Tissue damage Maintenance of reservoir Prevention of effector immune responses
Microbe Microbe clearance Host destruction
Similarly, reducing natural Treg cells in mice promotes better control When the natural Treg cell ‘pressure’ is removed, the effector func-
of primary C. albicans infection. However, enhanced pathology as tion of CD8+ T cells is restored and persistent viral loads are reduced
well as loss of immunity to re-infection occurs unless natural Treg cells considerably30. In the mouse model of AIDS, disease progression
are reconstituted14. Natural Treg cells may also maintain immunity to is associated with an increase of putative natural Treg cells in the
other chronic infections in which ‘poor-quality’ effectors are gener- periphery31.
ated and pathogen persistence is required. All of these models show Accumulating evidence also indicates that immunity to human
that a natural Treg cell–dependent balance can be established between immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection may be controlled by natural
host and pathogen that benefits both. Treg cells32–34. AIDS is associated with loss of CD4+ T cells and pro-
gressive immune dysfunction. Removal of Treg cells from peripheral
Consequences of natural Treg cell dysregulation blood mononuclear cell populations results in increased anti-HIV
As discussed above, the overall equilibrium between effector and CD4+ T cell responses32. In addition, the in vitro HIV-specific CD4
regulatory mechanisms may determine the outcome of an infection and CD8 T cell responses in most HIV-infected people is substantially
and this may in some cases be mutually beneficial to the host and abrogated by Treg cells33. Such suppression is cell contact depen-
the pathogen (Table 2). However, in some situations, the control dent and cytokine independent, supporting the idea of involvement
exerted by natural Treg cells seems to contribute to an unbalanced of natural Treg cells.
state, with the host experiencing damage. An example of this seems HCV is another disease in which involvement of natural Treg cells
to be malaria, a disease that causes the death of up to 2 million people is considered to impede immune defense. People chronically infected
annually. Natural immunity to malaria in endemic regions occurs, but with HCV have more circulating natural Treg cells in peripheral blood
it requires several years to develop and the many factors involved are than do uninfected people, and depletion of Treg cells enhances
still poorly understood25. One factor involved may be the participa- antigen-specific CD8+ T responses in vitro35. Treg cell suppression
tion of natural Treg cells. In mouse models of malaria, depletion of is dependent on TGF-β and cell contact21. Notably, patients chroni-
natural Treg cells protects mice from death caused by the lethal strain cally infected with HCV who develop autoimmunity show consider-
of Plasmodium yoelii26. Removal of natural Treg cells during mouse able reduction in their peripheral natural Treg cell numbers36. A link
malaria allows the restoration of a vigorous effector immune response between chronic infections, autoimmune disorders and dysregulation
against the parasite and control of infection26. Similarly, removal of of natural Treg cells function requires further analysis.
natural Treg cells after Plasmodium berghei infection in mice reduces Natural Treg cells can also control the intensity of secondary
parasitemia27. Whether natural Treg cells function in human malaria responses to infections such as listeria, HSV or leishmania28,37,38 and
remains to be addressed. may also influence the magnitude of memory37–39. In studies using
Other examples in which natural Treg cells may be detrimental to a DNA vaccine against listeria, natural Treg cells strongly restricted
the host-pathogen immune balance are accumulating. Comparisons the number of antigen specific CD8+ T cell responses38. A similar
of the HSV immune response in natural Treg cell–depleted and intact although less notable difference between natural Treg cell–depleted
mice have shown that responses are considerably enhanced in the versus intact mice has been reported for the recall response to HSV
absence of natural Treg cells28. This is evident for many parameters as well as to some HSV vaccine preparations39. Thus, natural Treg
of immunity, including CD4+ and CD8+ T cell responses28,21 as well cells may influence the extent of secondary immune responses to
as mucosal antibody concentration (F. Toka and B.T.R., unpublished pathogens and probably affect the host’s ability to resist to challenge.
observations). Furthermore, immunized mice lacking natural Treg Natural Treg cells may also affect the magnitude and homeostatic turn-
cells also show greater resistance to viral challenge28. The suppres- over of long-term memory cells, but this needs further investigation.
sive effect mediated by natural Treg cells has also been found in A better understanding of those issues could affect vaccine design.
several retrovirus systems. For example, in mice chronically infected Although pathogen persistence is compatible with and in some
with Friend leukemia virus, the increased number of natural Treg cells cases required for the maintenance of immunity to reinfection, per-
compromises the efficacy of protective CD8+ T cell responses29,30. sistence can also result in disease reactivation. Reactivation or acti-
NATURE IMMUNOLOGY VOLUME 6 NUMBER 4 APRIL 2005 355
recovered from chronically infected mice. These cells maintain a
strong proliferative capacity in response to the antigen in regional
lymph nodes and at sites of infection and continue to accumulate
proportionally with age. This contrasts with the activity of effector T
cells in these chronically infected mice that still produce interferon-γ
but proliferate poorly in response to the antigen (I. Suffia and Y.B.,
In addition to their direct effect on effector T cells, natural Treg
cells may exert a ‘bystander’ influence on the local environment
© 2005 Nature Publishing Group http://www.nature.com/natureimmunology
through cytokine release or through a direct effect on antigen-pre-
senting cells. They may also orchestrate inhibitory effects by induc-
ing dendritic cells to produce indoleamine 2,3 dioxygenase, which
prevents effector T cells from responding to antigen45. Thus, the
continual accumulation of natural Treg cells at sites of infection can
upset the homeostasis of the infected organ and cause local immuno-
suppression. Such an effect might be particularly substantial in the
context of chronic systemic infection, such as with HIV or HCV. We
have also found natural Treg cells among the inflammatory cells in
HSV-infected sensory ganglia. Here we believe the natural Treg cells
may serve to prevent effector T cells from destroying the infected but
Figure 1 Function and localization of natural Treg cells during infections. irreplaceable neurons (S. Suvas and B.T.R., unpublished data).
Antigen-presenting cells exposed to pathogens in the periphery will initiate A decrease in immune function is well described in the elderly46.
effector and natural Treg cell responses. The priming and expansion of In particular, their decreasing T cell function seems to be associated
effector populations is controlled in the lymph node by natural Treg cells. with increased risk and severity of infection, impaired response to
After chronic infection, both populations migrate to the infected sites and, vaccination and poorer control of cancer. Reactivation or activation
according to the environment, differentially effect their functions. Some
of persistent infection occurs with increased frequency in the elderly.
conditions will enhance natural Treg cell functions or survival, leading to
local control of effector cells and antigen-presenting cells. Other conditions An increased accumulation of cells with regulatory functions has been
will abrogate their regulatory functions. Resident natural Treg cells may shown in older mice compared with younger ones47,48. Whether
contribute to the local regulation of tissues in steady-state conditions. changes in natural Treg cell function account for the diminished
immunity of older humans remains to be addressed.
vation of latent or chronic bacterial (for example, Mycobacterium Antigen specificity of natural Treg cells
tuberculosis), protozoal (for example, Leishmania sp. or toxoplasma) Natural Treg cells have a polyclonal T cell receptor repertoire in nor-
and viral (for example, herpes viruses) infection causes an immense mal mice and are thought to recognize a wide array of self antigens.
burden of morbidity and mortality. Reactivation can occur as a result Whether they also recognize foreign antigens and the extent of their
of immunosuppression or environmental insults or with advancing repertoire for such antigens is unknown. We believe the case is strong
age40,41, but a definite cause for the reactivation or primary activa- for natural Treg cell recognition of antigens derived from pathogens
tion of dormant infections is often not apparent. In some situations, and that such recognition is an essential step in their regulatory
increased numbers of natural Treg cells can lead to disease reactiva- function. Evidence for this comes from studies of schistosoma and
tion. In the mouse model of chronic leishmania infection, for example, leishmania infection. Natural Treg cells from chronically infected
the transfer of purified natural Treg cells derived from infected mice mice can produce IL-10 in response to parasite antigens but not to
into other chronically infected animals is sufficient to trigger disease other stimuli or pathogens19,20,23. The activated phenotype of natu-
reactivation and inhibit effector memory response37. Furthermore, ral Treg cells populations in various models of infection also suggest
secondary challenge of mice chronically infected with leishmania their antigen specificity. Some of the most convincing data are from
at a site distant from the initial infection site induces transient dis- human studies. In HIV-infected people, cells with the characteristics
ease reactivation at the primary inoculation site despite induction of of natural Treg cells mediate suppression in an antigen-specific way33.
a powerful immune response at the challenge site. Reactivation is Similarly, in patients infected with H. pylori, Treg cell–mediated sup-
associated with a local increase in the number of natural Treg cells37. pression can be shown only with H. pylori antigens49. In addition,
These results demonstrate that the equilibrium between natural Treg Treg cells purified from peripheral blood mononuclear cell samples
cells and effector lymphocytes can be disturbed by superinfection, of HIV-infected patients on highly active antiretroviral therapy pro-
thereby altering immune efficacy and disease reactivation. duce large amounts of IL-10 in response to p24 antigen34. Similarly,
Studies of T cell receptor–transgenic mice have shown that anti- IL-10 production by Treg cells also occurs in HCV-infected patients
gen-specific natural Treg cells divide when appropriately presented in response to viral antigens21,50. Although expression of Foxp3 by
with antigen. Natural Treg cells expressing a transgenic T cell recep- microbe-specific Treg cells remains to be formally demonstrated in
tor specific for hemagglutinin or ovalbumin divide extensively when the human studies, these results are consistent with the idea that
exposed to their respective antigens in vivo42,43. In addition, natural natural Treg cells can recognize foreign antigen.
Treg cells strongly proliferate in vivo in steady-state conditions44. A possibility not mutually exclusive with the discussion above
Except in gnotobiotic facilities, all hosts are massively colonized would be that other antigenic specificities could also influence natural
by commensal microbes as well as with some persistent pathogens. Treg cell function during infection. Infections are often associated with
Such stimuli are thought to induce natural Treg cells, although this tissue damage and therefore self antigens can potentially be presented
needs verification. Natural Treg cells specific for leishmania can be in a nontolerogenic way. Thus, some natural Treg cells may respond
356 VOLUME 6 NUMBER 4 APRIL 2005 NATURE IMMUNOLOGY
to microbial antigens that are cross-reactive with self. Many mod- number of functional natural Treg cells has been found in the periph-
els have advocated a mechanism of molecular mimicry by showing eral blood of symptomatic patients infected with HIV or HCV33,36,59.
that foreign antigens can activate T cells that are cross-reactive with It is very likely that such decreases reflect the redistribution of natural
self antigen51,52. However, molecular mimicry remains a contentious Treg cells rather than an overall decrease. In various experimental
issue53. Pathogens can also present antigens cross-reactive with gut models such as infection with leishmania, HSV and schistosoma,
flora antigens. In fact, because natural Treg cells are prominent in the regulatory cells preferentially accumulate at sites of disease20,22,23.
control of gut homeostasis, the gut flora may shape the repertoire of Natural Treg cells with powerful suppressive function also accumu-
natural Treg cells. In several models of infection, removal or modifica- late at sites of human cutaneous leishmaniasis (J.S. Silva, personal
tion of gut flora can influence the susceptibility of the host to infec- communication). The segregation of human natural Treg cells at sites
© 2005 Nature Publishing Group http://www.nature.com/natureimmunology
tion54,55. As host-pathogen interactions change over time, it is very of infection is also supported by the finding that the number of these
likely that the nature of the antigens ‘seen’ by natural Treg cells and cells is greatly enhanced in the lymphoid organs of HIV-infected
their antigen specificities at sites of infection varies according to the people60. Thus, natural Treg cells may preferentially accumulate at
site or the stage of the infection. However, whether natural Treg cells sites of infection and, as a consequence, the peripheral blood may not
recognize specific pathogen antigens needs further investigation. always be the most appropriate compartment in which to investigate
the function of natural Treg cells in human chronic infections.
Microbes may favor natural Treg cell induction The conditions created by the infectious process obviously favor
Most pathogens delay or prevent host destruction. For this, they the recruitment and/or local survival of natural Treg cells. The anti-
have evolved multiple strategies to manipulate both the innate and inflammatory cytokine TGF-β, often produced in high concentration
the adaptive immune systems. Pathogens may also have evolved during chronic infections, is also an important factor for the local sur-
strategies to establish conditions favoring natural Treg cell priming vival and function of natural Treg cells61. Several pathogens can directly
(manipulation of antigen-presenting cells), recruitment (triggering of trigger TGF-β production by the cells they infect. In addition, TGF-β
chemokines) and survival (creating a favorable cytokine environment; is highly expressed in the vicinity of tissues such as the gut, the eye,
Fig. 1). Indeed, natural Treg cells are ‘activated’ by infections. This the skin or the lung. Cells and molecules ‘downstream’ of the inflam-
activation is demonstrated by enhanced natural Treg cell cytokine matory response are also associated with anti-inflammatory processes
production (IL-10 or TGF-β) in response to polyclonal stimuli or, in such as TGF-β production. Conventional CD4+ T cells exposed to high
some cases, exposure to antigens in infected hosts19–21,23. Activation concentrations of TGF-β can become suppressive, Foxp3+ cells62,63.
is also evident by increased expression of activation markers at the The involvement of this pathway in the local induction of Foxp3+
surface of natural Treg cells and their enhanced suppressive function Treg cells during infection remains to be addressed. In addition, large
both in vitro and in vivo28,56. In addition to responding to exposure amounts of TGF-β could also promote the local survival or retention
to antigens, natural Treg cells can also respond to microbial prod- of natural Treg cells.
ucts. For example, natural Treg cells selectively express Toll-like Whether pathogens can trigger the production of chemokines
receptors 4, 5, 7 and 8. Moreover, exposure of natural Treg cells to favoring natural Treg cells recruitment remains to be determined.
lipopolysaccharide induces upregulation of activation markers on Differences in chemokine responsiveness or receptor expression
their cell surfaces, and this enhances natural Treg cell survival and between natural Treg cells and effector T cells have been demon-
proliferation57. In addition, lipopolysaccharide treatment increases strated in various models64–66. However, most available data have
natural Treg cell–mediated suppression in vivo and in vitro. Many been obtained using natural Treg cells purified from lymphoid organs
pathogen-associated molecular patterns or
pattern-recognition receptors and inflamma-
tory tissue factors could also favor natural Pathogen expansion
Treg cell function and survival. The amount
of activation of the antigen-presenting cells is Persistent infection Pathogen elimination
critical to the development and induction of
natural Treg cells. For example, mature den- Immunopathology
Microbe induced pathology
dritic cells are more efficient at inducing the
proliferation of transgenic natural Treg cells
than are immature cells58.
It seems that natural Treg cells may them- Decrease of natural Treg cells function Promotion of natural Treg cells function
selves be infected by pathogens such as 1) Removal of natural Treg 1) Natural Treg transfer
HIV59. Similarly, conventional CD4+ T cells 2) Blockade of natural Treg effector molecules (IL-10, 2) Polyclonal stimulation
transduced with Foxp3 to generate functional 3) Enhancement of natural Treg function
3) Enhancement of effector T cells functions (GITR) (TGF−β, IL-2)
natural Treg cells are also easily infected by
HIV 59. It is not apparent if such infected nat-
Figure 2 Manipulation of natural Treg cells as a therapeutic approach during infection. The
ural Treg cells remain effective as regulators. interactions between a host and a pathogen range from uncontrolled pathogen growth to sterile
In the feline lentivirus system, too, CD4+ T elimination. Blockade or enhancement of natural Treg cell function may represent a therapeutic
cells may be targets of infection, but only approach at each ‘extreme’ of the host-pathogen interaction. Excess control of effector immune
natural Treg cells sustain virion production responses by natural Treg cells can lead to uncontrolled growth of the pathogen and eventual death
when cultured with IL-2 (ref. 56). of the host. In such cases, prevention of natural Treg cell function may restore the capacity of the
host to efficiently control infection. At the other ‘extreme’ of the host-pathogen interaction, effector
One mechanism by which pathogens might immune responses can efficiently eliminate pathogens. This situation can lead to ‘unleashed’
manipulate natural Treg cell function would effector immune responses and immunopathology. In the most extreme scenario, the host can die
be to create an environment that favors patho- from uncontrolled immune responses. For controlling immnopathology, enhancement of natural
gen retention and survival. A decrease in the Treg cells function may represent a therapeutic approach.
NATURE IMMUNOLOGY VOLUME 6 NUMBER 4 APRIL 2005 357
in mice or peripheral blood in humans. There are almost no data on Induction or activation of natural Treg cells represents a therapeutic
the signals and molecules involved in the traffic and retention of natu- objective when tissue damage is excessive (Fig. 2). In a model of
ral Treg cells at sites of infection where regulation would be required. mouse colitis, the transfer of natural Treg cells was found to be suf-
However, in the eye, the antigen VLA-4 seems to be involved in hom- ficient to control established inflammatory disease76. The polyclonal
ing of natural Treg cells22, and in the skin, the αEβ7 integrin is required activation of natural Treg cells in vivo could also favor the control of
for the retention of natural Treg cells during leishmania infection other immune-mediated lesions. For example, nonmitogenic antibody
(I. Suffia and Y.B., unpublished data). to CD3 may activate natural Treg cells selectively77. Such an approach
has been shown to control autoimmune diabetes in nonobese dia-
Counter-regulation or enhancement of natural Treg cell function betic mouse models77. Increasing natural Treg cell function or num-
© 2005 Nature Publishing Group http://www.nature.com/natureimmunology
The capacity of a host to mount an effective immune response can bers could potentially be achieved by providing cytokines that favor
be limited by the preexistence of counter-regulatory elements. Thus, natural Treg cell activity or survival, such as IL-2 or TGF-β. After
controlling regulatory mechanisms may represent a powerful strategy incubation with TGF-β and IL-2, natural Treg cells become more
for controlling chronic infection or enhancing the efficiency of vac- powerful than untreated cells in protecting the host from acute graft-
cines (Fig. 2). Many mechanisms that boost immune responses and versus-host disease78. In addition, TGF-β may convert conventional
favor the control of pathogens also abrogate natural Treg cell func- T cells into Foxp3+ natural Treg cells that act to modulate lesions in
tion67–69 (Fig. 1). When activated dendritic cells are used as source of an experimental asthma model62. When conventional human CD4+
antigen-presenting cells, the in vitro suppression mediated by natural T cells were transfected with Foxp3, those cells also acquired the
Treg cells is abolished, an effect partially mediated by IL-6 (ref. 67). In phenotype and function of natural Treg cells59. A similar approach in
this setting, the suppressive function of natural Treg cells is abrogated mice may prevent colitis79 and this could represent a powerful way
by a proinflammatory environment. Other reports have challenged to generate many antigen-specific natural Treg cells that could target
this hypothesis. In fact, the main target of this control seems to be sites of infection.
activation of the effector T cells that become unresponsive to natural In conclusion, natural Treg cells participate in the immune response
Treg cell suppression. Far from being ‘switched off ’ by activation, the to many and perhaps all infectious agents. Usually they serve to
proliferative and suppressive functions of natural Treg cell are boosted restrain exuberant immune reactivity, which in many chronic infec-
by encounters with activating signals. For example, in ovalbumin- tions benefits the host by limiting tissue damage. However, the natural
specific T cell receptor–transgenic mice, mature dendritic cells with Treg cell response may handicap the efficacy of protective immunity,
high expression of costimulatory molecules can more efficiently including that induced by vaccines. The challenge for immunologists
induce antigen-specific proliferation of natural Treg cells than can is to harness understanding of the ‘ins and outs’ of natural Treg cells
immature dendritic cells58. Natural Treg cells that have undergone and their ‘cousins’, learning how to tailor their function to achieve
massive proliferation in these conditions remain potent suppressor the proper balance between protection and pathology.
cells in vitro58. Microbial products can also directly enhance natural
Treg cell functions57. Thus, in general, activation enhances rather than
We thank C.L. Karp and S. Suvas for critical reading of the manuscript.
abrogates natural Treg cell function. However, we cannot discount the
possibility that the suppressive function of natural Treg cells could be COMPETING INTERESTS STATEMENT
differentially regulated in lymphoid organs versus tissues. Natural The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.
Treg cells might be expected to preserve the integrity of the host,
Published online at http://www.nature.com/natureimmunology/
reaching sites of inflammation in the periphery but abrogating their
function when antigen or inflammation is absent.
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