• gnotobiotic pigs;
  • regulatory T cells;
  • rotavirus infection;
  • vaccination


The distribution and dynamic changes of CD4+ CD25+ FoxP3+ and CD4+ CD25 FoxP3+ regulatory T (Treg) cells induced by human rotavirus (HRV) infection and vaccination were examined in neonatal gnotobiotic pigs infected with virulent HRV (VirHRV) or vaccinated with attenuated HRV (AttHRV). Subsets of gnotobiotic pigs in the AttHRV and control groups were challenged with VirHRV at post-inoculation day (PID) 28. We demonstrated that VirHRV infection or AttHRV vaccination reduced frequencies and numbers of tissue-residing Treg cells, and decreased the frequencies of interleukin-10 (IL-10) and transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) producing CD4+ CD25 Treg cells in ileum, spleen and blood at PID 28. The frequencies of IL-10 and TGF-β producing CD4+ CD25 Treg cells in all sites at PID 28 were significantly inversely correlated with the protection rate against VirHRV-caused diarrhoea (r = −1, P < 0·0001). Hence, higher frequencies of functional CD4+ CD25 Treg cells can be an indicator for poorer protective immunity against rotavirus. Our results highlighted the importance of CD4+ CD25 Treg cells over CD4+ CD25+ Treg cells in rotavirus infection and immunity. AttHRV vaccination (induction of immune effector responses) reduced the expansion of CD4+ CD25 Treg cells in ileum seen in the challenged naive pigs during the acute phase of VirHRV infection and preserved normal levels of intestinal TGF-β producing Treg cells post-challenge. The reduced suppressive effect of Treg cells in AttHRV-vaccinated pigs would unleash effector/memory T-cell activation upon challenge. Preserving TGF-β producing CD4+ CD25 Treg cells is important in maintaining homeostasis. Based on our findings, a model is proposed to depict the dynamic equilibrium course of Treg and effector T-cell responses after primary rotavirus infection/vaccination and challenge.