In autoimmune hepatitis (AIH), liver-damaging CD4 T cell responses are associated with defective CD4(pos) CD25(pos) regulatory T cells (T-regs). Galectin-9 (Gal9), a β-galactosidase-binding protein expressed by T-regs, is key to their function, inhibiting T helper 1 immune responses by binding T cell immunoglobulin and mucin domain 3 (Tim-3) on CD4 effector cells. We investigated whether impaired immunoregulation in AIH results from reduced expression of Gal9 in T-regs and/or Tim-3 on CD4 effector cells. Circulating Gal9(pos) CD4(pos) CD25(pos) and Tim-3(pos) CD4(pos) CD25(neg) T cell phenotype was assessed by flow cytometry in 75 AIH patients. To evaluate whether Tim-3 expression renders CD4(pos) CD25(neg) T cells amenable to T-reg control, purified CD4(pos) CD25(neg) Tim-3(pos) (Tim-3(pos)) and CD4(pos) CD25(neg) Tim-3(neg) (Tim-3(neg)) cells were cocultured with T-regs. To determine whether Gal9 expression is essential to function, T-regs were treated with small interfering RNA (siRNA) to repress Gal-9 translation; T-reg suppressor function was assessed by proliferation. In AIH, Tim-3(pos) cells within CD4(pos) CD25(neg) cells and their T-bet(pos) and RORC(pos) subsets were fewer and contained higher numbers of interferon-γ (IFNγ)(pos) and interleukin (IL)-17(pos) cells than healthy subjects (HS). In AIH and HS, Tim-3(pos) cells proliferated less vigorously and were more susceptible to T-reg control than Tim-3(neg) cells. In AIH, Gal9(pos) T-regs were fewer and contained less FOXP3(pos), IL-10(pos), and transforming growth factor β(pos) and more IFNγ(pos) and IL-17(pos) cells than HS. siRNA treatment of Gal-9(pos) T-regs drastically reduced T-reg ability to suppress CD4(pos) CD25(neg) and Tim-3(pos) cell proliferation in AIH and HS. Tim-3(pos) cell percentage correlated inversely with aminotransferase and CD25(neg) T-bet(pos) cell values.
Conclusion: Reduced levels of Tim-3 on CD4(pos) CD25(neg) effector cells and of Gal9 in T-regs contribute to impaired immunoregulation in AIH by rendering effector cells less prone to T-reg control and T-regs less capable of suppressing.
Copyright © 2012 American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases.