Hypoxic culture conditions enhance the generation of regulatory T cells

Immunology. 2015 Mar;144(3):431-443. doi: 10.1111/imm.12388.


The generation of large amounts of induced CD4+ CD25+ Foxp3+ regulatory T (iTreg) cells is of great interest for several immunotherapy applications, therefore a better understanding of signals controlling iTreg cell differentiation and expansion is required. There is evidence that oxidative metabolism may regulate several key signalling pathways in T cells. This prompted us to investigate the effects of oxygenation on iTreg cell generation by comparing the effects of atmospheric (21%) or of low (5%) O2 concentrations on the phenotype of bead-stimulated murine splenic CD4+ T cells from Foxp3-KI-GFP T-cell receptor transgenic mice. The production of intracellular reactive oxygen species was shown to play a major role in the generation of iTreg cells, a process characterized by increased levels of Sirt1, PTEN and Glut1 on the committed cells, independently of the level of oxygenation. The suppressive function of iTreg cells generated either in atmospheric or low oxygen levels was equivalent. However, greater yields of iTreg cells were obtained under low oxygenation, resulting from a higher proliferative rate of the committed Treg cells and higher levels of Foxp3, suggesting a better stability of the differentiation process. Higher expression of Glut1 detected on iTreg cells generated under hypoxic culture conditions provides a likely explanation for the enhanced proliferation of these cells as compared to those cultured under ambient oxygen. Such results have important implications for understanding Treg cell homeostasis and developing in vitro protocols for the generation of Treg cells from naive T lymphocytes.

Keywords: PTEN; Glut1; Sirt1; oxygenation; reactive oxygen species; regulatory T-cell induction.