T-regs in autoimmune hepatitis-systemic lupus erythematosus/mixed connective tissue disease overlap syndrome are functionally defective and display a Th1 cytokine profile

Maria Serena Longhi*, Yun Ma, Charlotte R. Grant, Marianne Samyn, Patrick Gordon, Giorgina Mieli-Vergani, Diego Vergani

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    39 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    Autoimmune hepatitis (AIH), a severe hepatopathy characterized by hypergammaglobulinaemia, autoantibodies and interface hepatitis, is occasionally associated with systemic autoimmune manifestations [systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE); mixed connective tissue disease (MCTD)]. In both AIH and SLE/MCTD numerical and/or functional impairment of regulatory T-cells (T-regs) is believed to favour autoimmunity. To investigate whether immune-tolerance breakdown profiles differ in patients with AIH and SLE/MCTD, isolated AIH or systemic autoimmunity, we studied phenotypic and functional features of T-regs in 10 patients with AIH-SLE/MCTD, 22 with AIH, 12 with SLE and 20 healthy subjects. Compared to health, CD4(pos)CD25(pos) cells were decreased in number and expressed high levels of the CD127 activation marker in all three disease groups; in AIH-SLE/MCTD and in SLE they displayed low levels of FOXP3. In AIH-SLE/MCfD, they also contained a high proportion of IFN gamma positive cells, indicating a Th1 profile. Similarly, in AIH-SLE/MCTD, CD4(pos)CD25(pos)CD25(high) T-regs were reduced in number and contained an increased proportion of activated CD127(pos) and IFN gamma(pos) cells. Such skewing towards a Th1 profile was also present at effector level, as a high frequency of IFN gamma-producing cells was observed within AIH-SLE/MCTD CD4(pos)CD25(neg) responder cells. Impairment in suppressor function both of CD4(pos)CD25(pos) cells. and CD4(pos)CD25(pos)CD127(neg) T-regs was observed in all three autoimmune conditions, but while addition of CD4(pos)CD25(pos)CD127(neg) T-regs decreased CD4(pos)CD25(neg) responder cell proliferation in healthy subjects and partially in AIH patients, it had no effect in AIH-SLE/MCTD and SLE patients.

    In conclusion, in AIH-SLE/MCTD T-regs display a distinctive phenotypic and functional signature, characterized by marked activation, elevated IFN gamma production and by a profound impairment of suppressive function, suggesting that multiple autoimmune manifestations may derive from a complex defect of immune-regulation.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)146-151
    Number of pages6
    JournalJournal of Autoimmunity
    Volume41
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - Mar 2013

    Keywords

    • Autoimmune hepatitis
    • Systemic lupus erythematosus
    • Mixed connective tissue disease
    • Regulatory T-cells
    • Th1 immunity
    • CELL-FUNCTION
    • TOLERANCE

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