Th1-like Treg in vitiligo: An incompetent regulator in immune tolerance

J Autoimmun. 2022 Jul;131:102859. doi: 10.1016/j.jaut.2022.102859. Epub 2022 Jul 2.


Vitiligo is an autoimmune skin disease resulting from epidermal melanocyte destruction mediated by CD8+T cells that breach the self-tolerance. Regulatory T cells (Tregs) are critical for keeping the CD8+T cells in check, but the deficiency of Tregs leading to the immune disequilibrium in vitiligo remains undefined. In the present study, we used RNA-sequencing (RNA-seq) to acquire the transcriptome data of Tregs from vitiligo patients and healthy controls, respectively. Further flow cytometry analysis and immunofluorescence assays substantiated the phenotype of Th1-like Tregs in vitiligo. CD8+T cell-/vitiligo serum-Treg co-culture assays and chemotaxis assays were used to functionally examine this subset of Tregs. As a result, RNA-seq, flow cytometry, and immunofluorescence all indicated the transition of bona fide Treg to the Th1-like T-bet+IFN-γ+Treg in vitiligo patients. Besides, these Th1-like Tregs exhibited significantly dampened suppression on the proliferation and activation of CD8+T cells and a markedly higher tendency to be chemoattracted by CXCL10 and CXCL16. More interestingly, vitiligo serum could even elicit bona fide Tregs of healthy controls to adopt the Th1-like phenotype and manifest impaired suppression. To conclude, Tregs from vitiligo patients are functionally disturbed and the Th1-skewed inflammatory microenvironment in the serum of vitiligo patients is responsible for the generation of Th1-like Tregs. We provide a clinical exploitable strategy that in addition to simply replenishing the bona fide Treg or promoting the homing of Treg to the skin, the normalization of the Th1-skewed inflammatory environment in vitiligo patients and targeting the incompetent Th1-like Tregs might be critical in the future treatment of vitiligo.

Keywords: CD8(+)T cell; IFN-γ; Regulatory T cell (Treg); Th1-like Treg; Vitiligo.

MeSH terms

  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes
  • Humans
  • Immune Tolerance
  • Skin
  • T-Lymphocytes, Regulatory*
  • Vitiligo*