Generation of human islet-specific regulatory T cells by TCR gene transfer

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Based on the success in animal models of type 1 diabetes (T1D), clinical trials of adoptive regulatory T cell (Treg) therapy are underway using ex vivo expanded polyclonal Tregs. However, pre-clinical data also demonstrate that islet-specific Tregs are more potent than polyclonal Tregs at reversing T1D. Translation of this approach into man will require methods to generate large populations of islet-specific Tregs which, to date, has proved to be a major hurdle. Here we demonstrate the feasibility of lentiviral-mediated T cell receptor (TCR) gene transfer to confer antigen specificity on polyclonal human Tregs. Targeting has been achieved using TCRs isolated from human islet-specific and viral-specific CD4+ T cell clones. Engineered T cells demonstrated expression of ectopically-delivered TCRs, resulting in endowment of cognate antigen-specific responses. This enabled antigen-specific suppression at increased potency compared to polyclonal Tregs. However, cells transduced with islet-specific TCRs were less responsive to cognate antigen than viral-specific TCRs, and in some cases, required additional methods to isolate functional antigen-specific Tregs. This study demonstrates the potential of TCR gene transfer to develop islet-specific Treg therapies for effective treatment of T1D, but also highlights that additional optimisation may be required to achieve its full potential.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)63-73
JournalJournal of Autoimmunity
Early online date20 Jan 2017
Publication statusPublished - 31 May 2017


  • Regulatory T cells
  • Cell therapy
  • TCR gene therapy
  • Diabetes


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