Proinflammatory stimuli induce galectin-9 in human mesenchymal stromal cells to suppress T-cell proliferation



Human multipotent mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) are clinically applied to treat autoimmune diseases and graft-versus-host disease due to their immunomodulatory properties. Several molecules have been identified to mediate these effects, including constitutively expressed galectin-1. However, there are indications in the literature that MSCs exert enhanced immunosuppressive functions after interaction with an inflammatory environment. Therefore, we analyzed how inflammatory stimuli influence the expression of the galectin network in MSCs and functionally tested the relevance for the immunomodulatory effects of MSCs. We found that galectin-9 was strongly induced in MSCs upon interaction with activated PBMCs. Proinflammatory cytokines, such as interferon-gamma (IFN-γ) and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α), and also ligands of the Toll-like receptors (TLRs) TLR2, TLR3, and TLR4 elicited similar induction of galectin-9 in activated PBMCs. Galectin-9 was not only upregulated intracellularly, but also released by MSCs in significant amounts into the supernatant after exposure to proinflammatory stimuli. In proliferation assays, MSCs with a galectin-9 knockdown lost a significant portion of their antiproliferative effects on T cells. In conclusion, we found that unlike constitutively expressed galectin-1, galectin-9 is induced by several proinflammatory stimuli and released by MSCs. Thus, galectin-9 contributes to the inducible immunomodulatory functions of MSCs.