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The Journal of experimental medicine

Homeostatic maintenance of natural Foxp3(+) CD25(+) CD4(+) regulatory T cells by interleukin (IL)-2 and induction of autoimmune disease by IL-2 neutralization.


PMID 15753206

Abstract

Interleukin (IL)-2 plays a crucial role in the maintenance of natural immunologic self-tolerance. Neutralization of circulating IL-2 by anti-IL-2 monoclonal antibody for a limited period elicits autoimmune gastritis in BALB/c mice. Similar treatment of diabetes-prone nonobese diabetic mice triggers early onset of diabetes and produces a wide spectrum of T cell-mediated autoimmune diseases, including gastritis, thyroiditis, sialadenitis, and notably, severe neuropathy. Such treatment selectively reduces the number of Foxp3-expressing CD25(+) CD4(+) T cells, but not CD25(-) CD4(+) T cells, in the thymus and periphery of normal and thymectomized mice. IL-2 neutralization inhibits physiological proliferation of peripheral CD25(+) CD4(+) T cells that are presumably responding to normal self-antigens, whereas it is unable to inhibit their lymphopenia-induced homeostatic expansion in a T cell-deficient environment. In normal naive mice, CD25(low) CD4(+) nonregulatory T cells actively transcribe the IL-2 gene and secrete IL-2 protein in the physiological state. IL-2 is thus indispensable for the peripheral maintenance of natural CD25(+) CD4(+) regulatory T cells (T reg cells). The principal physiological source of IL-2 for the maintenance of T reg cells appears to be other T cells, especially CD25(low) CD4(+) activated T cells, which include self-reactive T cells. Furthermore, impairment of this negative feedback loop via IL-2 can be a cause and a predisposing factor for autoimmune disease.