Myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs) were recently found to accumulate in the lungs during Pneumocystis pneumonia (PcP). Adoptive transfer of these cells caused lung damage in recipient mice, suggesting that MDSC accumulation is a mechanism of pathogenesis in PcP. In this study, the phagocytic activity of alveolar macrophages (AMs) was found to decrease by 40% when they were incubated with MDSCs from Pneumocystis-infected mice compared to those incubated with Gr-1(+) cells from the bone marrow of uninfected mice. The expression of the PU.1 gene in AMs incubated with MDSCs also was decreased. This PU.1 downregulation was due mainly to decreased histone 3 acetylation and increased DNA methylation caused by MDSCs. MDSCs were found to express high levels of PD-L1, and alveolar macrophages (AMs) were found to express high levels of PD-1 during PcP. Furthermore, PD-1 expression in AMs from uninfected mice was increased by 18-fold when they were incubated with MDSCs compared to those incubated with Gr-1(+) cells from the bone marrow of uninfected mice. The adverse effects of MDSCs on AMs were diminished when the MDSCs were pretreated with anti-PD-L1 antibody, suggesting that MDSCs disable AMs through PD-1/PD-L1 ligation during PcP.
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