Background: The oral immunomodulator FTY720 has shown efficacy in patients with relapsing multiple sclerosis (MS). FTY720 functionally antagonizes sphingosine 1-phosphate receptor-1 (S1P1) on T cells and consequently inhibits S1P/S1P1-dependent lymphocyte egress from secondary lymphoid organs. Little is known about the phenotype and function of T cells remaining in peripheral blood during long-term FTY720 treatment.
Methods: T cells from FTY720-treated, interferon-beta (IFNbeta)-treated and untreated patients with MS, and healthy donors (HD) were analyzed with respect to T cell subpopulation composition, proliferation, and cytokine production.
Results: In FTY720-treated patients (n = 16), peripheral blood CD4+ and CD8+ T cell counts were reduced by approximately 80% and 60% when compared to the other groups (IFN beta: n = 7; untreated: n = 5; HD: n = 10). This related to selective reduction of naive (CCR7+CD45RA+) and central memory (CCR7+CD45RA-) T cells (TCM), and resulted in a relative increase of peripheral effector memory (CCR7-CD45RA- [TEM] and CCR7-CD45RA+ [TEMRA]) T cells. The remaining blood T cell populations displayed a reduced potential to secrete IL-2 and to proliferate in vitro, but rapidly produced interferon-gamma upon reactivation, confirming a functional TEM/TEMRA phenotype. Neither FTY720 nor FTY720-P directly suppressed proliferation or cytokine production by T cells.
Conclusion: Therapeutic dosing of FTY720 reduces naïve T cells and TCM, but not TEM, in blood, without affecting T cell function. This is presumably because naive T cells and TCM express the homing receptor CCR7, allowing recirculation to secondary lymphoid tissues on a regular basis and, thus, trapping of the cells by FTY720 in lymph nodes.