Delayed thrombolytic treatment with recombinant tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) may exacerbate blood-brain barrier breakdown after ischaemic stroke and lead to lethal haemorrhagic transformation. The immune system is a dynamic modulator of stroke response, and excessive immune cell accumulation in the cerebral vasculature is associated with compromised integrity of the blood-brain barrier. We previously reported that regulatory T cells, which function to suppress excessive immune responses, ameliorated blood-brain barrier damage after cerebral ischaemia. This study assessed the impact of regulatory T cells in the context of tPA-induced brain haemorrhage and investigated the underlying mechanisms of action. The number of circulating regulatory T cells in stroke patients was dramatically reduced soon after stroke onset (84 acute ischaemic stroke patients with or without intravenous tPA treatment, compared to 115 age and gender-matched healthy controls). Although stroke patients without tPA treatment gradually repopulated the numbers of circulating regulatory T cells within the first 7 days after stroke, post-ischaemic tPA treatment led to sustained suppression of regulatory T cells in the blood. We then used the murine suture and embolic middle cerebral artery occlusion models of stroke to investigate the therapeutic potential of adoptive regulatory T cell transfer against tPA-induced haemorrhagic transformation. Delayed administration of tPA (10 mg/kg) resulted in haemorrhagic transformation in the ischaemic territory 1 day after ischaemia. When regulatory T cells (2 × 106/mouse) were intravenously administered immediately after delayed tPA treatment in ischaemic mice, haemorrhagic transformation was significantly decreased, and this was associated with improved sensorimotor functions. Blood-brain barrier disruption and tight junction damages were observed in the presence of delayed tPA after stroke, but were mitigated by regulatory T cell transfer. Mechanistic studies demonstrated that regulatory T cells completely abolished the tPA-induced elevation of MMP9 and CCL2 after stroke. Using MMP9 and CCL2 knockout mice, we discovered that both molecules partially contributed to the protective actions of regulatory T cells. In an in vitro endothelial cell-based model of the blood-brain barrier, we confirmed that regulatory T cells inhibited tPA-induced endothelial expression of CCL2 and preserved blood-brain barrier integrity after an ischaemic challenge. Lentivirus-mediated CCL2 knockdown in endothelial cells completely abolished the blood-brain barrier protective effect of regulatory T cells in vitro. Altogether, our studies suggest that regulatory T cell adoptive transfer may alleviate thrombolytic treatment-induced haemorrhage in stroke victims. Furthermore, regulatory T cell-afforded protection in the tPA-treated stroke model is mediated by two inhibitory mechanisms involving CCL2 and MMP9. Thus, regulatory T cell adoptive transfer may be useful as a cell-based therapy to improve the efficacy and safety of thrombolytic treatment for ischaemic stroke.
Keywords: CCL2; blood–brain barrier; haemorrhagic transformation; matrix metalloproteinase 9; regulatory T cell.
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