Distinct molecular program imposed on CD4+ T cell targets by CD4+CD25+ regulatory T cells

J Immunol. 2006 Nov 15;177(10):6952-61. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.177.10.6952.


CD4+CD25+ regulatory T cells (Tregs) are key modulators of immunity, but their mechanism of action is unclear. To elucidate the molecular consequences of Treg encounter, we analyzed changes in gene expression in CD4+ T cell targets activated in the presence or absence of CD4+CD25+ Tregs. Tregs did not alter the early activation program of CD4+ T cells, but had reversed many of the activation-induced changes by 36 h. It is not known whether Tregs simply induce a set of transcriptional changes common to other nonproliferative states or whether instead Tregs mediate a distinct biological activity. Therefore, we compared the gene profile of T cells following Treg encounter with that of T cells made anergic, TGF-beta-treated, or IL-2-deprived; all possible modes of Treg action. Strikingly, all genes down-regulated in suppressed cells were indeed common to these nonproliferative states. In contrast, Treg encounter led to elevated expression of a unique set of genes in the target T cells. Although different from the nonproliferative states tested, the Treg-imposed gene program is exemplified by expression of many genes associated with growth arrest or inhibition of proliferation. We suggest that Tregs function by the induction of a distinct set of negative regulatory factors that initiate or maintain target T cells in a nonproliferative state.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • CD4 Antigens / biosynthesis*
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / cytology
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • Cell Communication / immunology
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Clonal Anergy / immunology
  • Down-Regulation / immunology
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Expression Regulation / immunology*
  • Interleukin-2 Receptor alpha Subunit / biosynthesis*
  • Kinetics
  • Lymphocyte Activation / immunology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / cytology
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / metabolism


  • CD4 Antigens
  • Interleukin-2 Receptor alpha Subunit