Jorge Gallego-Valle, Sergio Gil-Manso, Ana Pita, Esther Bernaldo-de-Quirós, Rocío López-Esteban, Marta Martínez-Bonet, Verónica Astrid Pérez-Fernández, Ramón Pérez-Caballero, Carlos Pardo, Juan-Miguel Gil-Jaurena, Rafael Correa-Rocha and Marjorie Pion.
Regulatory T cells (Tregs), which are characterized by the expression of the transcription factor forkhead box P3 (FOXP3), are the main immune cells that induce tolerance and are regulators of immune homeostasis.
Natural Treg cells (nTregs), described as CD4+CD25+FOXP3+, are generated in the thymus via activation and cytokine signaling.
Transforming growth factor beta type 1 (TGF-β1) is pivotal to the generation of the nTreg lineage, its maintenance in the thymus, and to generating induced Treg cells (iTregs) in the periphery or in vitro arising from conventional T cells (Tconvs).
Here, we tested whether TGF-β1 treatment, associated with interleukin-2 (IL-2) and CD3/CD28 stimulation, could generate functional Treg-like cells from human thymocytes in vitro, as it does from Tconvs.
Additionally, we genetically manipulated the cells for ectopic FOXP3 expression, along with the TGF-β1 treatment.
We demonstrated that TGF-β1 and ectopic FOXP3, combined with IL-2 and through CD3/CD28 activation, transformed human thymocytes into cells that expressed high levels of Treg-associated markers.
However, these cells also presented a lack of homogeneous suppressive function and an unstable proinflammatory cytokine profile.
Therefore, thymocyte-derived cells, activated with the same stimuli as Tconvs, were not an appropriate alternative for inducing cells with a Treg-like phenotype and function.