BACKGROUND: Human cord blood (CB) is a superior source of regulatory T cells (Tregs) compared with peripheral blood. Initial studies have shown that CB-derived Tregs can be effectively expanded ex vivo. However, in vitro suppressor activity of expanded CB-Tregs and their efficacy in the prevention of acute graft-versus-host disease (aGVHD) in vivo are poorly understood.
STUDY DESIGN AND METHODS: In vitro, human CB CD4+CD25+ T cells expanded with anti-CD3/CD28 beads plus interleukin (IL)-2 and the phenotypes, expression of cytokines, and suppression of expanded cells were analyzed after two cycles of stimulation. In vivo, the addition of human CB-Tregs was transferred in the major histocompatibility complex–mismatched aGVHD mouse model. Survival, body weight, GVHD scoring, histopathologic specimens, serum cytokines, and Th subsets were analyzed in CB-Treg–treated mice and untreated controls.
RESULTS: After being expanded ex vivo, human CB-derived Tregs with potent suppressor function could meet clinical demands. Up to 85% of mice with CB-Tregs treatment survived beyond Day 63 after bone marrow transplantation; however, all aGVHD mice died within 18 days. In the serum of the CB-Treg–treated mice, the production of transforming growth factor-β increased continuously, as opposed to IL-17, which decreased quickly. Consistent with the changes of cytokines, the percentage of mouse CD4+ forkhead box protein 3+ Tregs increased while that of Th17 cells decreased.
CONCLUSION: Ex vivo expanded human CB-Tregs significantly prevented allogeneic aGVHD in vivo by modulating various cytokine secretion and polarizing the Treg/Th17 balance toward Treg, which suggests the potential use of expanded CB-Tregs as a therapeutic approach for GVHD.