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Keywords:

  • Allogeneic skin transplantation;
  • CD8 suppressor cells;
  • Cytotoxic T lymphocytes;
  • CD8α+CD11c+ dendritic cells;
  • CD4 regulatory T cells;
  • graft rejection;
  • transforming growth factor-β1

CD4+ regulatory T cells play a critical role in tolerance induction in transplantation. CD8+ suppressor T cells have also been shown to control alloimmune responses in preclinical and clinical models. However, the exact nature of the CD8+ suppressor T cells, their induction and mechanism of function in allogeneic transplantation remain elusive. In this study, we show that functionally suppressive, alloantigen-specific CD8+Foxp3+ T cells can be induced and significantly expanded by stimulating naïve CD8+ T cells with donor dendritic cells in the presence of IL-2, TGF-β1 and retinoic acid. These CD8+Foxp3+ T cells express enhanced levels of CTLA-4, CCR4 and CD103, inhibit the up-regulation of costimulatory molecules on dendritic cells, and suppress CD4 and CD8 T cell proliferation and cytokine production in a donor-specific and contact-dependent manner. Importantly, upon adoptive transfer, the induced CD8+Foxp3+ T cells protect full MHC-mismatched skin allografts. In vivo, the CD8+Foxp3+ T cells preferentially traffic to the graft draining lymph node where they induce conventional CD4+Foxp3+ T cells and concurrently suppress effector T cell expansion. We conclude that donor-specific CD8+Foxp3+ suppressor T cells can be induced and exploited as an effective form of cell therapy for graft protection in transplantation.