Background: Immune regulatory CD4+CD25+ T (regulatory T; Treg) cells play a vital role in the induction and maintenance of self-tolerance. They are essential for the homeostasis of T cells, the prevention of autoimmunity, and the induction of tolerance to allogeneic donor grafts. However, the underlying mechanism of their functions remains mostly elusive. Therefore, we investigated here a crucial role of Treg cells in their response to alloantigen via the programmed death (PD)-1/PD-1 ligand (PD-L1) pathway.
Methods: In vitro mixed lymphocyte reaction (MLR) assay, graft-versus-host disease (GvHD) and a skin transplantation model were used to evaluate the mechanisms of PD-1/PD-L1 pathway.
Results: Blockade of the PD-1/PD-L1 pathway using anti-PD-L1 monoclonal antibodies (mAb) is found to inhibit Treg cell's ability to suppress and restore CD4+CD25-T-cell proliferation in vitro. GvHD was lethal after adoptive transfer of allogeneic C57BL/6 (H-2K) spleen cells to NOD/SCID (H-2K) mice unless CD25+ T cells were also included. Strikingly, the suppression of GvHD by CD25+ cells was abrogated by anti-PD-L1 mAb administration. The abrogation of Treg-cell-mediated suppression could also be demonstrated in a Balb/c (H-2K) to B6/Rag-2KO (H-2K) skin-allograft model.
Conclusions: The blockade of the PD-1/PD-L1 pathway abrogates Treg-mediated immunoregulation, thus suggesting that the PD-1/PD-L1 pathway is required for Treg suppression of the alloreactive responses of CD4+CD25-T cells. This finding has important implications for clarifying the mechanisms of allograft rejection and GvHD.