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Keywords:

  • FOXP3;
  • gut;
  • irritable bowel syndrome;
  • mucosal inflammation;
  • regulatory T cells

Abstract  The aetiology of the irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is incompletely understood. A low-grade colonic inflammation is frequently seen, but it is unclear to what extent this phenomenon contributes to the pathophysiology of IBS. CD4+CD25+ regulatory T cells (Treg) are implicated to play an important role in suppressing intestinal inflammation. We, therefore, examined whether the intestinal inflammatory process in IBS patients is the result of an altered function and/or frequency of CD25+ Treg cells. Patients with IBS (n = 34), fulfilling the Rome II criteria, were compared with controls (n = 26). The suppressive activity of blood CD25+ Treg cells was determined and the frequency of colonic and blood CD25+ Treg cells was analysed by flow cytometry. The expression of the Treg marker, FOXP3 mRNA, in colonic biopsies was determined by reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction. Blood CD25+ Treg cells from IBS patients suppressed the proliferation of blood CD4+CD25low/− T cells. Similar frequencies of CD25+ Treg cells were recorded in mucosa and blood of IBS patients and controls. FOXP3 mRNA was equally expressed in the colonic mucosa of patients with IBS and controls. In conclusion, the low-grade intestinal inflammation recorded in patients with IBS is not associated with an altered function or frequency of CD25+ Treg cells.