Lymphocyte differentiation from naive CD4+ T cells into mature Th1, Th2, Th17, or T regulatory cell (Treg) phenotypes has been considered end stage in character. In this study, we demonstrate that dendritic cells (DCs) activated with a novel immune modulator B7-DC XAb (DCXAb) can reprogram Tregs into T effector cells. Down-regulation of FoxP3 expression after either in vitro or in vivo Treg-DCXAb interaction is Ag-specific, IL-6-dependent, and results in the functional reprogramming of the mature T cell phenotype. The reprogrammed Tregs cease to express IL-10 and TGFβ, fail to suppress T cell responses, and gain the ability to produce IFN-γ, IL-17, and TNF-α. The ability of IL-6+ DCXAb and the inability of IL-6-/-DCXAb vaccines to protect animals from lethal melanoma suggest that exogenously modulated DC can reprogram host Tregs. In support of this hypothesis and as a test for Ag specificity, transfer of DCXAb into RIP-OVA mice causes a break in immune tolerance, inducing diabetes. Conversely, adoptive transfer of reprogrammed Tregs but not similarly treated CD25- T cells into naive RIP-OVA mice is also sufficient to cause autoimmune diabetes. Yet, treatment of normal mice with B7-DC XAb fails to elicit generalized autoimmunity. The finding that mature Tregs can be reprogrammed into competent effector cells provides new insights into the plasticity of T cell lineage, underscores the importance of DC-T cell interaction in balancing immunity with tolerance, points to Tregs as a reservoir of autoimmune effectors, and defines a new approach for breaking tolerance to self Ags as a strategy for cancer immunotherapy.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Immunology and Allergy