A growing body of data shows that CD4(+)CD25(+) regulatory T cells (Tregs) can induce transplantation tolerance by suppressing immune responses to allograft antigens. However, both the generation and the suppressive capacity of CD4(+)CD25(+) Tregs can be substantially affected by different immunosuppressive drugs used in clinical transplantation. The goal of this study was to compare the effects of cyclosporine A and rapamycin on the induction and suppressive functions of human CD4(+)CD25(+) Tregs in vitro.
CD4(+)CD25(+) Tregs were induced in two-way mixed lymphocyte reaction (MLR) in the presence of rapamycin (Treg-Rapa) or cyclosporine A (Treg-CsA). Tregs were identified in MLR cultures by flow cytometry using anti-CD4, anti-CD25, anti-CTLA-4, anti-CD122, anti-GITR mAbs and ant-PE-FOXP3 staining sets. Suppressive capacity of induced Tregs was evaluated by their capability to inhibit anti-CD3 Ab-triggered proliferation of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs), as measured by flow cytometry. The concentration of TGF-beta1 in culture supernatants was measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay.
Although both rapamycin and cyclosporine A suppressed the induction of CD4(+)CD25(+) Tregs during MLRs, this effect was significantly more pronounced in cells cultured with cyclosporine. On the other hand, only rapamycin significantly decreased the percentage of CD4(+)CD25(+) Tregs which expressed GITR, a negative regulator of Treg's suppressive capacity. Importantly, Treg-Rapa, unlike Treg-CsA, displayed significant suppressive activity and were capable of inhibiting the proliferation of anti-CD3 Ab-activated PBMCs. This activity was likely mediated by TGF-beta1.
Rapamycin, unlike cyclosporine A, does not inhibit the function of CD4(+)CD25(+) Tregs. This implies that rapamycin could contribute to the development of transplantation tolerance by promoting the induction of functional CD4(+)CD25(+) Tregs. Moreover, our results suggest that rapamycin could be combined with functional Tregs.