A phase 1 study of donor regulatory T-cell infusion plus low-dose interleukin-2 for steroid-refractory chronic graft-vs-host disease

Blood Adv. 2022 Nov 8;6(21):5786-5796. doi: 10.1182/bloodadvances.2021006625.


Chronic graft-versus-host disease (cGVHD) remains a frequent cause of nonrelapse morbidity and mortality after allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation. Despite recent advances, options for steroid-refractory (SR) cGVHD are limited. In previous trials of low-dose interleukin-2 (LD IL-2), the immunomodulatory properties of regulatory T cells (Tregs) have been harnessed to treat SR-cGVHD safely and effectively. In the present study, we combined a single infusion of Treg-enriched lymphocytes (Treg DLI) from the original stem cell donor with in vivo Treg expansion using LD IL-2 (1 × 106 IU/m2 per day for 8 weeks) in 25 adult patients with SR-cGVHD. Treg were not expanded ex vivo. Treg DLI was initiated at 0.1 × 106 cells per kg patient and escalated to a maximum dose of 1 × 106 cells per kg. Treg DLI plus LD IL-2 was well tolerated and led to partial responses (PR) in 5 of 25 patients (20%) after 8 weeks of therapy. Ten additional patients (40%) had stable disease with minor responses not meeting PR criteria. Patients at all dose levels had similar Treg expansion without significant changes in CD4+ conventional T cells or CD8+ T cells. High-throughput sequencing of the T-cell receptor β locus showed selective improvement of Treg diversity. A subset of DLI-derived Treg clones showed preferential expansion at week 8 and long-term persistence 1-year postinfusion. We demonstrate for the first time that infusion of polyclonal healthy donor Tregs followed by expansion with LD IL-2 is safe in patients with SR-cGVHD, thus establishing a foundation for future adoptive Treg therapies in the posttransplant setting. This trial was registered at www.clinicaltrials.gov as #NCT01937468.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial, Phase I
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Graft vs Host Disease* / drug therapy
  • Graft vs Host Disease* / etiology
  • Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation* / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-2 / therapeutic use
  • Steroids / therapeutic use
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory


  • Interleukin-2
  • Steroids

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT01937468