Human CD4+ T regulatory cells (Tregs) are a population of phenotypically and functionally diverse cells that downregulate inflammatory and autoimmune responses. As Th17 cells play an important role in the pathogenesis of autoimmune diseases, it is critical to elucidate the mechanisms regulating these cells. In this study, we examined the molecular basis underlying the phenotypic and functional diversity of human Tregs expressing the ectonucleotidase CD39. CD4+CD25hiCD39+ Tregs inhibit the proliferative response and the secretion of IL-17 and IFN-γ of autologous CD4+ T effector cells, while CD4+CD25hiCD39- Tregs only suppress IFN-γ production. We demonstrate that activated human CD4+CD25hiCD39+ Tregs express the Th17-associated surface markers CCR6 and IL-23R, and phosphorylate the transcription factor Stat3. Moreover, suppression of IL-17 by CD4+CD25hiCD39+ Tregs occurs via a Stat3-dependent mechanism as inhibition of Stat3 activation in the CD39+ Tregs reverses their ability to suppress IL-17. CD4+CD25hiCD39- Tregs are not endowed with the ability to inhibit IL-17 as they do not upregulate CCR6 or the IL-23R, and furthermore, they secrete IL-17. Our findings provide the first evidence that human Treg functional diversity is matched to the type of immune response being regulated and reveal a new role for Stat3 in controlling Treg function.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Cell Biology
- CD39 T cells