Objective: We have recently described a novel population of natural regulatory T cells (T(reg)) that are characterized by the expression of HLA-G and may be found at sites of tissue inflammation (HLA-G(pos) T(reg)). Here we studied the role of these cells in multiple sclerosis (MS), a prototypic autoimmune inflammatory disorder of the central nervous system (CNS).
Methods: Sixty-four patients with different types of MS, 9 patients with other neurological diseases, and 20 healthy donors were included in this study. Inflamed brain lesions from 5 additional untreated MS patients were examined. HLA-G(pos) T(reg) were analyzed in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) by flow cytometry and in inflammatory demyelinating lesions of MS brain specimens by immunohistochemistry. Functional capacity was accessed and transmigration was determined using an in vitro model of the human blood-brain barrier (BBB).
Results: HLA-G(pos) T(reg) were found enriched in the inflamed CSF of MS patients and in inflammatory demyelinating lesions of MS brain specimens. HLA-G(pos) T(reg) showed a strong propensity to transmigrate across BBB, which was vigorously driven by inflammatory chemokines, and associated with a gain of suppressive capacity upon transmigration. CSF-derived HLA-G(pos) T(reg) of MS patients represented a population of activated central memory activated T cells with an upregulated expression of inflammatory chemokine receptors and exhibiting full suppressive capacity. Unlike natural FoxP3-expressing T(reg), HLA-G(pos) T(reg) derived from peripheral blood were functionally unimpaired in MS.
Interpretation: In MS, HLA-G(pos) T(reg) may serve to control potentially destructive immune responses directly at the sites of CNS inflammation and to counterbalance inflammation once specifically recruited to the CNS.