Regulatory T (T reg) cells are a specialized sublineage of T lymphocytes that suppress autoreactive T cells. Functional studies of T reg cells in vitro have defined multiple suppression mechanisms, and studies of T reg-deficient humans and mice have made clear the important role that these cells play in preventing autoimmunity. However, many questions remain about how T reg cells act in vivo. Specifically, it is not clear which suppression mechanisms are most important, where T reg cells act, and how they get there. To begin to address these issues, we sought to identify T reg cells in zebrafish, a model system that provides unparalleled advantages in live-cell imaging and high-throughput genetic analyses. Using a FOXP3 orthologue as a marker, we identified CD4-enriched, mature T lymphocytes with properties of T reg cells. Zebrafish mutant for foxp3a displayed excess T lymphocytes, splenomegaly, and a profound inflammatory phenotype that was suppressed by genetic ablation of lymphocytes. This study identifies T reg-like cells in zebrafish, providing both a model to study the normal functions of these cells in vivo and mutants to explore the consequences of their loss.
© 2017 Kasheta et al.