Human natural regulatory CD4+ T cells comprise 5-10% of peripheral CD4+T cells. They constitutively express the IL-2Rα - chain (CD25) and the nuclear transcription Foxp3. These cells are heterogeneous and contain discrete subsets with distinct phenotypes and functions. Studies in mice report that LAG-3 has a complex role in T cell homeostasis and is expressed in CD4+CD25+ T regulatory cells. In this study, we explored the expression of LAG-3 in human CD4 + T cells and found that LAG-3 identifies a discrete subset of CD4+CD25highFoxp3+ T cells. This CD4 +CD25highFoxp3+LAG-3+ population is preferentially expanded in the PBMCs of patients with cancer, in lymphocytes of tumor-invaded lymph nodes and in lymphocytes infiltrating visceral metastasis. Ex vivo analysis showed that CD4+CD25highFoxp3 +LAG-3+ T cells are functionally active cells that release the immunosuppressive cytokines IL-10 and TGF-β1, but not IL-2. An in vitro suppression assay using CD4+CD25highLAG-3 + T cells sorted from in vitro expanded CD4+CD25 high regulatory T cells showed that this subset of cells is endowed with potent suppressor activity that requires cell-to-cell contact. Our data show that LAG-3 defines an active CD4+CD25highFoxp3 + regulatory T cell subset whose frequency is enhanced in the PBMCs of patients with cancer and is expanded at tumor sites.
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