Altered Tregs Differentiation and Impaired Autophagy Correlate to Atherosclerotic Disease

Sara Mandatori, Ilenia Pacella, Vincenzo Marzolla, Caterina Mammi, Donatella Starace, Fabrizio Padula, Laura Vitiello, Andrea Armani, Carmine Savoia, Maurizio Taurino, Daniela De Zio, Claudia Giampietri, Silvia Piconese, Francesco Cecconi, Massimiliano Caprio, Antonio Filippini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Atherosclerosis is a progressive vascular disease representing the primary cause of morbidity and mortality in developed countries. Formerly, atherosclerosis was considered as a mere passive accumulation of lipids in blood vessels. However, it is now clear that atherosclerosis is a complex and multifactorial disease, in which the involvement of immune cells and inflammation play a key role. A variety of studies have shown that autophagy—a cellular catalytic mechanism able to remove injured cytoplasmic components in response to cellular stress—may be proatherogenic. So far, in this context, its role has been investigated in smooth muscle cells, macrophages, and endothelial cells, while the function of this catabolic protective process in lymphocyte functionality has been overlooked. The few studies carried out so far, however, suggested that autophagy modulation in lymphocyte subsets may be functionally related to plaque formation and development. Therefore, in this research, we aimed at better clarifying the role of lymphocyte subsets, mainly regulatory T cells (Tregs), in human atherosclerotic plaques and in animal models of atherosclerosis investigating the contribution of autophagy on immune cell homeostasis. Here, we investigate basal autophagy in a mouse model of atherosclerosis, apolipoprotein E (ApoE)-knockout (KO) mice, and we analyze the role of autophagy in driving Tregs polarization. We observed defective maturation of Tregs from ApoE-KO mice in response to tumor growth factor-β (TGFβ). TGFβ is a well-known autophagy inducer, and Tregs maturation defects in ApoE-KO mice seem to be related to autophagy impairment. In this work, we propose that autophagy underlies Tregs maturation, advocating that the study of this process in atherosclerosis may open new therapeutic strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Article number350
Number of pages16
JournalFrontiers in Immunology
Publication statusPublished - Mar 13 2020


  • ApoE-KO
  • atherosclerosis
  • autophagy
  • plaques
  • regulatory T cells

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


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