Regulatory T-cells regulate neonatal heart regeneration by potentiating cardiomyocyte proliferation in a paracrine manner

Theranostics. 2019 Jun 9;9(15):4324-4341. doi: 10.7150/thno.32734. eCollection 2019.


The neonatal mouse heart is capable of transiently regenerating after injury from postnatal day (P) 0-7 and macrophages are found important in this process. However, whether macrophages alone are sufficient to orchestrate this regeneration; what regulates cardiomyocyte proliferation; why cardiomyocytes do not proliferate after P7; and whether adaptive immune cells such as regulatory T-cells (Treg) influence neonatal heart regeneration have less studied. Methods: We employed both loss- and gain-of-function transgenic mouse models to study the role of Treg in neonatal heart regeneration. In loss-of-function studies, we treated mice with the lytic anti-CD25 antibody that specifically depletes Treg; or we treated FOXP3DTR with diphtheria toxin that specifically ablates Treg. In gain-of-function studies, we adoptively transferred hCD2+ Treg from NOD.Foxp3 hCD2 to NOD/SCID that contain Treg as the only T-cell population. Furthermore, we performed single-cell RNA-sequencing of Treg to uncover paracrine factors essential for cardiomyocyte proliferation. Results: Unlike their wild type counterparts, NOD/SCID mice that are deficient in T-cells but harbor macrophages fail to regenerate their injured myocardium at as early as P3. During the first week of injury, Treg are recruited to the injured cardiac muscle but their depletion contributes to more severe cardiac fibrosis. On the other hand, adoptive transfer of Treg results in mitigated fibrosis and enhanced proliferation and function of the injured cardiac muscle. Mechanistically, single-cell transcriptomic profiling reveals that Treg could be a source of regenerative factors. Treg directly promote proliferation of both mouse and human cardiomyocytes in a paracrine manner; and their secreted factors such as CCL24, GAS6 or AREG potentiate neonatal cardiomyocyte proliferation. By comparing the regenerating P3 and non-regenerating P8 heart, there is a significant increase in the absolute number of intracardiac Treg but the whole transcriptomes of these Treg do not differ regardless of whether the neonatal heart regenerates. Furthermore, even adult Treg, given sufficient quantity, possess the same regenerative capability. Conclusion: Our results demonstrate a regenerative role of Treg in neonatal heart regeneration. Treg can directly facilitate cardiomyocyte proliferation in a paracrine manner.

Keywords: CD4+ regulatory T-cells; cardiac fibrosis; cardiomyocyte proliferation; heart regeneration; macrophages; single-cell RNA-seq.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adoptive Transfer
  • Aging / physiology
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Fibrosis
  • Forkhead Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Heart / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Innate
  • Loss of Function Mutation / genetics
  • Macrophages / metabolism
  • Mice, Inbred NOD
  • Mice, SCID
  • Myocardial Infarction / pathology
  • Myocardial Infarction / physiopathology
  • Myocytes, Cardiac / cytology*
  • Myocytes, Cardiac / metabolism
  • Paracrine Communication*
  • Regeneration / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory / immunology*
  • Transcriptome / genetics
  • Up-Regulation / genetics


  • Forkhead Transcription Factors
  • Foxp3 protein, mouse