Extracellular MicroRNA Signature of Human Helper T Cell Subsets in Health and Autoimmunity

J Biol Chem. 2017 Feb 17;292(7):2903-2915. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M116.769893. Epub 2017 Jan 11.


Upon T cell receptor stimulation, CD4+ T helper (Th) lymphocytes release extracellular vesicles (EVs) containing microRNAs. However, no data are available on whether human CD4+ T cell subsets release EVs containing different pattern of microRNAs. The present work aimed at filling this gap by assessing the microRNA content in EVs released upon in vitro T cell receptor stimulation of Th1, Th17, and T regulatory (Treg) cells. Our results indicate that EVs released by Treg cells are significantly different compared with those released by the other subsets. In particular, miR-146a-5p, miR-150-5p, and miR-21-5p are enriched, whereas miR-106a-5p, miR-155-5p, and miR-19a-3p are depleted in Treg-derived EVs. The in vitro identified EV-associated microRNA signature was increased in serum of autoimmune patients with psoriasis and returned to healthy levels upon effective treatment with etanercept, a biological drug targeting the TNF pathway and suppressing inflammation. Moreover, Gene Set Enrichment Analysis showed an over-representation of genes relevant for T cell activation, such as CD40L, IRAK1, IRAK2, STAT1, and c-Myb in the list of validated targets of Treg-derived EV miRNAs. At functional level, Treg-derived (but not Th1/Th17-derived) EVs inhibited CD4+ T cell proliferation and suppressed two relevant targets of miR-146a-5p: STAT1 and IRAK2. In conclusion, our work identified the miRNAs specifically released by different human CD4+ T cell subsets and started to unveil the potential use of their quantity in human serum to mark the pathological elicitation of these cells in vivo and their biological effect in cell to cell communication during the adaptive immune response.

Keywords: autoimmunity; cell-cell interaction; extracellular vesicles; lymphocyte; microRNA (miRNA).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Autoimmune Diseases / genetics*
  • Autoimmune Diseases / immunology
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / cytology*
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Etanercept / therapeutic use
  • Extracellular Vesicles / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • MicroRNAs / blood
  • MicroRNAs / genetics*
  • Psoriasis / blood
  • Psoriasis / drug therapy
  • Psoriasis / genetics
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets*


  • MicroRNAs
  • Etanercept