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Chronic Immune Activation in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus and the Autoimmune PTPN22 Trp620 Risk Allele Drive the Expansion of FOXP3+ Regulatory T Cells and PD-1 Expression

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Ricardo C. Ferreira, Xaquin Castro Dopico, João J. Oliveira, Daniel B. Rainbow, Jennie H. Yang, Dominik Trzupek, Sarah A. Todd, Mhairi McNeill, Maristella Steri, Valeria Orrù, Edoardo Fiorillo, Daniel J.M. Crouch, Marcin L. Pekalski, Francesco Cucca, Tim I. Tree, Tim J. Vyse, Linda S. Wicker, John A. Todd

Original languageEnglish
Article number2606
JournalFrontiers in Immunology
Publication statusPublished - 8 Nov 2019

King's Authors


In systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), perturbed immunoregulation underpins a pathogenic imbalance between regulatory and effector CD4+ T-cell activity. However, to date, the characterization of the CD4+ regulatory T cell (Treg) compartment in SLE has yielded conflicting results. Here we show that patients have an increased frequency of CD4+FOXP3+ cells in circulation owing to a specific expansion of thymically-derived FOXP3+HELIOS+ Tregs with a demethylated FOXP3 Treg-specific demethylated region. We found that the Treg expansion was strongly associated with markers of recent immune activation, including PD-1, plasma concentrations of IL-2 and the type I interferon biomarker soluble SIGLEC-1. Since the expression of the negative T-cell signaling molecule PTPN22 is increased and a marker of poor prognosis in SLE, we tested the influence of its missense risk allele Trp620 (rs2476601C>T) on Treg frequency. Trp620 was reproducibly associated with increased frequencies of thymically-derived Tregs in blood, and increased PD-1 expression on both Tregs and effector T cells (Teffs). Our results support the hypothesis that FOXP3+ Tregs are increased in SLE patients as a consequence of a compensatory mechanism in an attempt to regulate pathogenic autoreactive Teff activity. We suggest that restoration of IL-2-mediated homeostatic regulation of FOXP3+ Tregs by IL-2 administration could prevent disease flares rather than treating at the height of a disease flare. Moreover, stimulation of PD-1 with specific agonists, perhaps in combination with low-dose IL-2, could be an effective therapeutic strategy in autoimmune disease and in other immune disorders.

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