Objective: To address the role of cord blood (CB) CD25+CD4+ T cells, the gene expressions and function of this subset were analyzed.
Materials and methods: CD25+CD4+ T cells fractionated from CB of term and preterm infants were subjected to flow cytometry, quantitative polymerase chain reaction analysis for cytokines, costimulatory molecules, and transcription factors, and functional assays.
Results: Human preterm CB contained a high proportion of CD25+CD4+ T cells that declined with gestational age to the level of adult peripheral blood (PB). CD25+ or CD25-CD4+ T cells in CB had a higher frequency of CD45RA+ and CD38+ cells than in PB. CB CD25+CD4+ T cells less frequently expressed CD45RO, CD71, and HLA-DR than PB CD25+CD4+ T cells, despite similar expressions on CB and PB CD25-CD4+ T cells. No expression of IL-10, transforming growth factor-beta, interleukin-4, and interferon-gamma mRNA differed between CB CD25+CD4+ and CD25-CD4+ T cells, in contrast to the high interleukin-10 expression in PB CD25+CD4+ T cells. CTLA-4 was more transcribed in CB and PB CD25+CD4+ T cells than in the counterpart CD25-CD4+ T cells. CD28 or ICOS was similarly expressed in CB and PB T cells. CB CD25+CD4+ T cells effectively suppressed the proliferation of CB CD25-CD4+ T cells in a dose-dependent manner. Human CB and PB CD25+CD4+ T cells preferentially transcribed Foxp3, which governs the regulatory function of this subset in mice.
Conclusions: These results suggest that CB contains CD25+CD4+ regulatory T cells as a functionally mature population with naive phenotype. This subset may naturally arise and decline in fetus to play a potential immunoregulatory role in intrauterine life.