OBJECTIVE - Interleukin-21 (IL-21) is a proinflammatory cytokine that has been shown to affect Treg/Teff balance. However, the mechanism by which IL-21 orchestrates alloimmune response and interplays with Tregs is still unclear. RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS - The interplay between IL-21/IL-21R signaling, FoxP3 expression, and Treg survival and function was evaluated in vitro in immunologically relevant assays and in vivo in allogenic and autoimmune models of islet transplantation. RESULTS - IL-21R expression decreases on T cells and B cells in vitro and increases in the graft in vivo, while IL-21 levels increase in vitro and in vivo during anti-CD3/anti-CD28 stimulation/allostimulation in the late phase of the alloimmune response. In vitro, IL-21/IL-21R signaling (by using rmIL-21 or genetically modified CD4 + T cells [IL-21 pOrf plasmid-treated or hIL-21-Tg mice]) enhances the T-cell response during anti-CD3/anti-CD28 stimulation/allostimulation, prevents Treg generation, inhibits Treg function, induces Treg apoptosis, and reduces FoxP3 and FoxP3-dependent gene transcripts without affecting FoxP3 methylation status. In vivo targeting of IL-21/IL-21R expands intragraft and peripheral Tregs, promotes Treg neogenesis, and regulates the antidonor immune response, whereas IL-21/IL-21R signaling in Doxa-inducible ROSA-rtTA-IL-21-Tg mice expands Teffs and FoxP3 - cells. Treatment with a combination of mIL-21R.Fc and CTLA4-Ig (an inhibitor of the early alloimmune response) leads to robust graft tolerance in a purely alloimmune setting and prolonged islet graft survival in NOD mice. CONCLUSIONS - IL-21 interferes with different checkpoints of the FoxP3 Treg chain in the late phase of alloimmune response and, thus, acts as an antitolerogenic cytokine. Blockade of the IL-21/IL-21R pathway could be a precondition for tolerogenic protocols in transplantation.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Internal Medicine
- Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism