Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis transcriptomics reveals immunological effects of low-dose interleukin-2

Brain Commun. 2021 Jun 29;3(3):fcab141. doi: 10.1093/braincomms/fcab141. eCollection 2021.


Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a fatal neurodegenerative disease causing upper and lower motor neuron loss and currently no effective disease-modifying treatment is available. A pathological feature of this disease is neuroinflammation, a mechanism which involves both CNS-resident and peripheral immune system cells. Regulatory T-cells are immune-suppressive agents known to be dramatically and progressively decreased in patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. Low-dose interleukin-2 promotes regulatory T-cell expansion and was proposed as an immune-modulatory strategy for this disease. A randomized placebo-controlled pilot phase-II clinical trial called Immuno-Modulation in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis was carried out to test safety and activity of low-dose interleukin-2 in 36 amyotrophic lateral sclerosis patients (NCT02059759). Participants were randomized to 1MIU, 2MIU-low-dose interleukin-2 or placebo and underwent one injection daily for 5 days every 28 days for three cycles. In this report, we describe the results of microarray gene expression profiling of trial participants' leukocyte population. We identified a dose-dependent increase in regulatory T-cell markers at the end of the treatment period. Longitudinal analysis revealed an alteration and inhibition of inflammatory pathways occurring promptly at the end of the first treatment cycle. These responses are less pronounced following the end of the third treatment cycle, although an activation of immune-regulatory pathways, involving regulatory T-cells and T helper 2 cells, was evident only after the last cycle. This indicates a cumulative effect of repeated low-dose interleukin-2 administration on regulatory T-cells. Our analysis suggested the existence of inter-individual variation amongst trial participants and we therefore classified patients into low, moderate and high-regulatory T-cell-responders. NanoString profiling revealed substantial baseline differences between participant immunological transcript expression profiles with the least responsive patients showing a more inflammatory-prone phenotype at the beginning of the trial. Finally, we identified two genes in which pre-treatment expression levels correlated with the magnitude of drug responsiveness. Therefore, we proposed a two-biomarker based regression model able to predict patient regulatory T-cell-response to low-dose interleukin-2. These findings and the application of this methodology could be particularly relevant for future precision medicine approaches to treat amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

Keywords: amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; clinical trial; low-dose interleukin 2; regulatory T cells; transcriptomics.