Novel Concept of CD4-Mediated Activation of Regulatory T Cells for the Treatment of Graft-Versus-Host Disease

Front Immunol. 2017 Nov 8:8:1495. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2017.01495. eCollection 2017.


Allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation is the only curative treatment option for several hematological malignancies and immune deficiency syndromes. Nevertheless, the development of a graft-versus-host disease (GvHD) after transplantation is a high risk and a severe complication with high morbidity and mortality causing therapeutic challenges. Current pharmacological therapies of GvHD lead to generalized immunosuppression followed by severe adverse side effects including infections and relapse of leukemia. Several novel cell-based immunomodulatory strategies for treatment or prevention of GvHD have been developed. Herein, thymus-derived regulatory T cells (tTreg), essential for the maintenance of peripheral immunologic tolerance, are in the focus of investigation. However, due to the limited number of tTreg in the peripheral blood, a complex, time- and cost-intensive in vitro expansion protocol is necessary for the production of an efficient cellular therapeutic. We demonstrated that activation of tTreg using the CD4-binding human immunodeficiency virus-1 protein gp120 leads to a substantially increased suppressor activity of tTreg without the need for additional expansion. Gp120-activated tTreg prevent GvHD development in a preclinical humanized mouse model. In addition, gp120 is not only effective in prevention but also in therapy of GvHD by suppressing all clinical symptoms and improving survival of treated mice. These data indicate that tTreg activation by gp120 is a feasible and potent strategy for significant functional improvement of tTreg as cellular therapeutic for GvHD treatment without the need of complicated, time-intensive, and expensive in vitro expansion of isolated tTreg.

Keywords: CD4 stimulation; cellular therapy; graft-versus-host disease; regulatory T cell; tolerance.

Publication types

  • Review