Characterization of regulatory T cells identified as CD4 +CD25 highCD39 + in patients with active tuberculosis

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Forkhead box P3 (FoxP3) is a transcription factor whose expression characterizes regulatory T cells (T reg), but it is also present on activated T cells, thus hindering correct T reg identification. Using classical markers for T reg recognition, discordant results were found in terms of T reg expansion during active tuberculosis (TB) disease. Recently CD39 has been shown to be an accurate marker for T reg detection. The objectives of this study were: (i) to identify T reg expressing CD39 in patients with TB and to compare the results with those obtained by the standard phenotypic markers; (ii) to evaluate if T reg are expanded in vitro by exogenous interleukin (IL)-2 or by antigen-specific stimulation; and (iii) to characterize T reg function on the modulation of antigen-specific responses. We enrolled 13 patients with pulmonary TB and 12 healthy controls. T reg were evaluated by flow cytometry ex vivo and after antigen-specific in vitro stimulation using CD25, FoxP3, CD127 and CD39 markers. Results indicate that CD39 + cells within the CD4 +CD25 high cells have T reg properties (absence of interferon-γ production and transforming growth factor-β1 release upon stimulation). Ex vivo analysis did not show significant differences between TB patients and controls of T reg by classical or novel markers. In contrast, a significantly higher percentage of T reg was found in TB patients after antigen-specific stimulation both in the presence or absence of IL-2. Depletion of CD39 + T reg increased RD1-specific responses significantly. In conclusion, CD39 is an appropriate marker for T reg identification in TB. These results can be useful for future studies to monitor Mycobacterium tuberculosis-specific response during TB.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)463-470
Number of pages8
JournalClinical and Experimental Immunology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2009


  • CD39
  • FoxP3
  • RD1 proteins
  • T
  • TB

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology
  • Immunology and Allergy


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