Background: Type-1 T cells are critical for effective anti-tumor immune responses. The recently discovered microRNAs (miRs) are a large family of small regulatory RNAs that control diverse aspects of cell function, including immune regulation. We identified miRs differentially regulated between type-1 and type-2 T cells, and determined how the expression of such miRs is regulated.
Methods: We performed miR microarray analyses on in vitro differentiated murine T helper type-1 (Th1) and T helper type-2 (Th2) cells to identify differentially expressed miRs. We used quantitative RT-PCR to confirm the differential expression levels. We also used WST-1, ELISA, and flow cytometry to evaluate the survival, function and phenotype of cells, respectively. We employed mice transgenic for the identified miRs to determine the biological impact of miR-17-92 expression in T cells.
Results: Our initial miR microarray analyses revealed that the miR-17-92 cluster is one of the most significantly over-expressed miR in murine Th1 cells when compared with Th2 cells. RT-PCR confirmed that the miR-17-92 cluster expression was consistently higher in Th1 cells than Th2 cells. Disruption of the IL-4 signaling through either IL-4 neutralizing antibody or knockout of signal transducer and activator of transcription (STAT)6 reversed the miR-17-92 cluster suppression in Th2 cells. Furthermore, T cells from tumor bearing mice and glioma patients had decreased levels of miR-17-92 when compared with cells from non-tumor bearing counterparts. CD4+ T cells derived from miR-17-92 transgenic mice demonstrated superior type-1 phenotype with increased IFN-gamma production and very late antigen (VLA)-4 expression when compared with counterparts derived from wild type mice. Human Jurkat T cells ectopically expressing increased levels of miR-17-92 cluster members demonstrated increased IL-2 production and resistance to activation-induced cell death (AICD).
Conclusion: The type-2-skewing tumor microenvironment induces the down-regulation of miR-17-92 expression in T cells, thereby diminishing the persistence of tumor-specific T cells and tumor control. Genetic engineering of T cells to express miR-17-92 may represent a promising approach for cancer immunotherapy.