Background: DBA/2J kidney allografts, but not heart allografts, are spontaneously accepted indefinitely in C57BL/6 (B6) mice, through regulatory tolerance mechanism dependent on Foxp3 cells. In contrast, B6 kidneys are rejected within a week in DBA/2J recipients. We hypothesized that the tolerogenic difference of the kidneys might be due to differences in number or function of plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDCs), because these cells are potent inducers of Foxp3 cells.
Methods: pDCs from murine bone marrow, native kidneys, and spontaneously accepted kidney allografts were analyzed using flow cytometry and immunohistochemical staining. Naive T cells were cocultured with pDCs in specific strain combinations and analyzed for FoxP3 induction and functionality. MEK/ERK and NFκB inhibitors were used to assess the regulatory T-cell induction pathways. pDCs and T-cell cultures were adoptively transferred before heterotopic heart transplantation to assess allograft survival.
Results: DBA/2J pDCs were more potent in inducing Foxp3 in B6 T cells than the reverse combination, correlating with survival of the kidney allografts. Foxp3 induction by pDCs in vitro was dependent on pDC viability, immaturity, and class II MHC mismatch and blocked by MEK/ERK and NFκB inhibition. pDC-induced Foxp3 T cells suppressed proliferation of B6 T cells in vitro, and adoptive transfer into B6 recipients 2 weeks before heterotopic DBA/2J heart transplantation resulted in prolonged allograft survival.
Conclusions: These data suggest that pDC-induced regulatory T cells are dependent on downstream signaling effects and on strain-dependent, MHC class II disparity with naive T cells, which may explain organ- and strain-specific differences in spontaneous tolerance.