Regulatory T cells reversibly suppress cytotoxic T cell function independent of effector differentiation

Immunity. 2006 Jul;25(1):129-41. doi: 10.1016/j.immuni.2006.04.015.


Mechanisms of dominant tolerance have evolved within the mammalian immune system to prevent inappropriate immune responses. CD4(+)CD25(+) regulatory T (T(reg)) cells have emerged as central constituents of this suppressive activity. By using multiphoton intravital microscopy in lymph nodes (LNs) of anesthetized mice, we have analyzed how cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) interact with antigen-presenting target cells in the presence or absence of activated T(reg) cells. Nonregulated CTLs killed their targets at a 6.6-fold faster rate than regulated CTLs. In spite of this compromised effector activity, regulated CTLs exhibited no defect in proliferation, induction of cytotoxic effector molecules and secretory granules, in situ motility, or ability to form antigen-dependent conjugates with target cells. Only granule exocytosis by CTLs was markedly impaired in the presence of T(reg) cells. This selective form of regulation did not require prolonged contact between CTLs and T(reg) cells but depended on CTL responsiveness to transforming growth factor-beta. CTLs quickly regained full killing capacity in LNs upon selective removal of T(reg) cells. Thus, T(reg) cells reversibly suppress CTL-mediated immunity by allowing acquisition of full effector potential but withholding the license to kill.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigens / immunology
  • Apoptosis / immunology
  • B-Lymphocytes / cytology
  • B-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Cell Differentiation*
  • Cell Line
  • Kinetics
  • Mice
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Signal Transduction
  • T-Lymphocytes, Cytotoxic / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocytes, Cytotoxic / metabolism
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / immunology*
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta / metabolism


  • Antigens
  • Transforming Growth Factor beta