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Foxp3 expression in CD4+ T cells of patients with systemic lupus erythematosus: a comparative phenotypic analysis
  1. M Bonelli,
  2. K von Dalwigk,
  3. A Savitskaya,
  4. J S Smolen,
  5. C Scheinecker
  1. Division of Rheumatology, Internal Medicine III, General Hospital of Vienna, Medical University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria
  1. Clemens Scheinecker, MD, Division of Rheumatology, Internal Medicine III, Medical University of Vienna (MUW), General Hospital of Vienna, Waehringer Guertel 18–20, A-1090 Wien, Austria; clemens.scheinecker{at}meduniwien.ac.at

Abstract

Objectives: The forkhead family transcription factor Foxp3 currently represents the most specific marker molecule for CD4+CD25+ T cells with suppressive/regulatory capacity (Treg) in the mouse. Recent studies in the human system, however, indicate that the expression of Foxp3 can be T cell activation dependent. This tempted us to evaluate the significance of Foxp3 expression under autoimmune conditions with chronic T cell activation in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) as compared with healthy controls (HCs).

Methods: Proportions of peripheral blood CD4+Foxp3+ T cells and CD4+CD25high T cells were determined in patients with active and inactive SLE as compared with HC by flow cytometry. Comparative analysis of the percentage of CD4+Foxp3+ T cells and of percentage of CD4+CD25high T cells with clinical disease activity and T cell activation marker molecule expression were performed. Finally, the induction of Foxp3 expression was analysed upon T cell activation in vitro.

Results: Proportions of CD4+Foxp3+ T cells were significantly increased in patients with SLE as compared with HC and a significant correlation was observed between clinical disease activity and proportions of CD4+Foxp3+ T cells. On the other hand, proportions of CD4+CD25high were decreased in SLE and no correlation with a T cell activation marker expression of was observed. In addition, in vitro activation of T cells induced Foxp3 expression.

Conclusions: Our data suggest that the expression of Foxp3 on CD4+ T cells in patients with SLE, at least to some extent, reflects the activation of CD4+ T cells due to underlying disease activity and does not necessarily indicate a functional regulatory T cell capacity.

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Footnotes

  • Funding: This work was supported by grant P18374-B13 of the Austrian Science Fund (FWF).

  • Competing interests: None.

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