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In vitro induction of T regulatory cells by a methylated CpG DNA sequence in humans: Potential therapeutic applications in allergic and autoimmune diseases

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Allergic and autoimmune diseases comprise a group of inflammatory disorders caused by aberrant immune responses in which CD25+ Forkhead box P3-positive (FOXP3+) T regulatory (Treg) cells that normally suppress inflammatory events are often poorly functioning. This has stimulated an intensive investigative effort to find ways of increasing Tregs as a method of therapy for these conditions. One such line of investigation includes the study of how ligation of Toll-like receptors (TLRs) by CpG oligonucleotides (ODN) results in an immunostimulatory cascade that leads to induction of T-helper (Th) type 1 and Treg-type immune responses.


The present study investigated the mechanisms by which calf thymus mammalian double-stranded DNA (CT-DNA) and a synthetic methylated DNA CpG ODN sequence suppress in vitro lymphoproliferative responses to antigens, mitogens, and alloantigens when measured by [3H]-thymidine incorporation and promote FoxP3 expression in human CD4+ T cells in the presence of transforming growth factor (TGF) beta and interleukin-2 (IL-2).


Lymphoproliferative responses of peripheral blood mononuclear cells from four healthy subjects or nine subjects with systemic lupus erythematosus to CT-DNA or phytohemagglutinin (PHA) was measured by tritiated thymidine ([3H]-TdR) incorporation expressed as a stimulation index. Mechanisms of immunosuppressive effects of CT-DNA were evaluated by measurement of the degree of inhibition to lymphoproliferative responses to streptokinase-streptodornase, phytohemagglutinin (PHA), concanavalin A (Con A), pokeweed mitogen (PWM), or alloantigens by a Con A suppressor assay. The effects of CpG methylation on induction of FoxP3 expression in human T cells were measured by comparing inhibitory responses of synthetic methylated and nonmethylated 8-mer CpG ODN sequences by using cell sorting, in vitro stimulation, and suppressor assay.


Here, we showed that CT-DNA and a synthetic methylated DNA 8-mer sequence could suppress antigen-, mitogen-, and alloantigen-induced lymphoproliferation in vitro when measured by [3H]-thymidine. The synthetic methylated DNA CpG ODN but not an unmethylated CpG ODN sequence was shown to promote FoxP3 expression in human CD4+ T cells in the presence of TGF beta and IL-2. The induction of FoxP3+ suppressor cells is dose dependent and offers a potential clinical therapeutic application in allergic and autoimmune and inflammatory diseases.


The use of this methylated CpG ODN offers a broad clinical application as a novel therapeutic method for Treg induction and, because of its low cost and small size, should facilitate delivery via nasal, respiratory, gastrointestinal routes, and/or by injection, routes of administration important for vaccine delivery to target sites responsible for respiratory, gastrointestinal, and systemic forms of allergic and autoimmune disease.
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Keywords: Allergic; CpG oligonucleotides; DNA sequence; Treg; autoimmune; immune response; inflammatory disorders

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Department of Pediatrics, Georgetown University Medical Center, Washington, D.C., USA 2: Inova Shar Cancer Institute, Center for Drug Discovery and Development, Fairfax, VA, USA 3: Georgetown-Howard Universities Center for Clinical and Translational Science, Washington, D.C., USA 4: MedStar Health Research Institute, Hyattsville, MD, USA 5: Division of Rheumatology, Milton S. Hershey Medical Center at Penn State University, Hershey PA, USA

Publication date: March 1, 2018

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  • Allergy and Asthma Proceedings is a peer reviewed publication dedicated to distributing timely scientific research regarding advancements in the knowledge and practice of allergy, asthma and immunology. Its primary readership consists of allergists and pulmonologists.

    The goal of the Proceedings is to publish articles with a predominantly clinical focus which directly impact quality of care for patients with allergic disease and asthma and by having the potential to directly impact the quality of patient care. AAP welcomes the submission of original works including peer-reviewed original research and clinical trial results. Additionally, as the official journal of the Eastern Allergy Conference (EAC), AAP will publish content from EAC poster sessions as well as review articles derived from EAC lectures.

    Featured topics include asthma, rhinitis, sinusitis, food allergies, allergic skin diseases, diagnostic techniques, allergens, and treatment modalities. Published material includes peer-reviewed original research, clinical trials and review articles.

    Articles marked "F" offer free full text for personal noncommercial use only.

    The journal is indexed in Thomson Reuters Web of Science and Science Citation Index Expanded, plus the National Library of Medicine's PubMed service.
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