Interferon beta-induced restoration of regulatory T-cell function in multiple sclerosis is prompted by an increase in newly generated naive regulatory T cells

Arch Neurol. 2008 Nov;65(11):1434-9. doi: 10.1001/archneur.65.11.1434.


Background: Naturally occurring regulatory T (T(reg)) cells are functionally impaired in patients with relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. We recently showed that prevalences of newly generated CD31-coexpressing naive T(reg) cells (recent thymic emigrant-T(reg) cells) are critical for suppressive function of circulating T(reg) cells, and a shift in the homeostatic composition of T(reg)-cell subsets related to a reduced de novo generation of recent thymic emigrant-T(reg) cells may contribute to the multiple sclerosis (MS)-related T(reg)-cell dysfunction. Interferon beta, an immunomodulatory agent with established efficacy in MS, lowers relapse rates and slows disease progression. Emerging evidence suggests that T(reg)-cell suppressive capacity may increase in patients with MS undergoing treatment with interferon beta, although the mechanisms mediating this effect are uncertain.

Objective: To evaluate the effect of interferon beta treatment on the suppressive activity and the homeostasis of circulating T(reg) cells in patients with MS.

Participants: Twenty patients with relapsing-remitting MS and 18 healthy control subjects.

Interventions: Administration of interferon beta.

Main outcome measures: Effect of interferon beta on T(reg)-cell homeostasis and suppressive capacity.

Results: Suppressive capacities of T(reg) cells were consistently upregulated at 3 and 6 months after treatment with interferon beta. The restoration of T(reg)-cell function was paralleled by increased naive recent thymic emigrant-T(reg) cells and a coincidental reduction in memory T(reg) cells.

Conclusion: The increase in T(reg)-cell inhibitory capacity mediated by interferon beta treatment can be explained by its effect on the homeostatic balance within the T(reg) cell compartment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Homeostasis / drug effects*
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Factors / therapeutic use*
  • Immunologic Memory / drug effects
  • Interferon-beta / therapeutic use*
  • Lymphocyte Count
  • Middle Aged
  • Multiple Sclerosis, Relapsing-Remitting / blood
  • Multiple Sclerosis, Relapsing-Remitting / drug therapy*
  • Multiple Sclerosis, Relapsing-Remitting / immunology*
  • Multiple Sclerosis, Relapsing-Remitting / pathology
  • T-Lymphocytes, Helper-Inducer / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes, Helper-Inducer / pathology
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / drug effects
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / pathology*
  • Thymus Gland / pathology
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Young Adult


  • Immunologic Factors
  • Interferon-beta