Introduction: Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) have immunosuppressive activity. They do not induce allospecific T cell responses, making them promising tools for reducing the severity of graft versus host disease (GVHD) as well as treating various immune diseases. Currently, there is a need in the MSC field to develop a robust in vitro bioassay which can characterize the immunosuppressive function of MSCs.
Methods: Murine clonal CD4 and CD8 T cells were stimulated with cognate peptide antigen and antigen presenting cells (APCs) in the absence or presence of human MSCs, different aspects of T cell activation were monitored and analyzed using flow cytometry, real time RT-PCR and cytokine measurement.
Results: Human MSCs (hMSCs) can alter multiple aspects of murine T cell activation induced by stimulation with specific antigen, including: reduced proliferation, inhibited or stimulated cell surface marker expression (CD25, CD69, CD44 and CD62L), inhibited mRNA expression of transcription factors (T-bet and GATA-3) and decreased cytokine expression (interferon-gamma, interleukin-10). Disappearance of activation-induced cluster formation and decreased apoptosis of CD8 T cells were also observed. Moreover, the effects are specific to MSCs; incubating the T cells with non-MSC control cell lines had no effect on T cell proliferation and activation.
Conclusions: Clonal murine T cells can be used to measure, characterize, and quantify the in vitro immunosuppressive activity of human MSCs, representing a promising approach to improve bioassays for immunosuppression.