Year of Publication

2012

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

College

Medicine

Department

Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics

First Advisor

Dr. Francesc Marti

Abstract

Maintaining balance in the human immune system is critical for the body’s ability to discriminate between foreign and self-antigens. This balance is achieved, in part, by a subpopulation of T cells known as induced regulatory T cells (iTregs). Dysregulation of this population may contribute to the onset and progression of cancer, chronic inflammation and autoimmune diseases. Therefore, manipulation of iTreg development holds promising therapeutic potential; however, studying this vital population has proven difficult due to low numbers, heterogeneous cell populations, substantial phenotypic differences between mouse and human cells, and the high plasticity seen in iTregs. These current limitations have prevented a full understanding of the molecular signaling events that govern their development and function. Our lab has established a novel cell culture system that mimics in vivo human iTreg development. This system allows for the discrimination and comparison of naïve, memory and iTreg T cell populations simultaneously within a single donor. These iTregs exhibit high levels of CD25, FoxP3, CTLA4, GITR, low levels of CD127 and display strong suppressor activity. Using this innovative system, we have demonstrated a rewiring of T cell receptor (TCR) signaling in iTregs compared to conventional T cells. We found that the voltage gated K+ ion channel-Kv1.3 is not active in response to TCR engagement in iTregs, even though Ca2+ influx remains intact. Kv1.3 and the linked Src-family kinase Lck were redistributed to the highly active IL2-Receptor (IL2-R) complex. Additionally, we have shown that there is increased AKT protein expression in iTregs versus conventional T cell populations that does not correlate with the TCR-induced increase in its active (phosphorylated) form. This blockage appears to be due to an imbalance of kinase to phosphatase activity in iTregs with a specific TCR-induced inhibition of mTOR activity. We have also demonstrated that AKT accumulation in iTregs leads to its physical association with SMAD3, suggesting a novel, non-enzymatic function of AKT through transcription factor inhibition. This study sheds light on the reciprocal cross talk between the IL-2R and TCR signaling pathways and uncovers the mechanism of AKT blockade in primary human iTregs, thus opening novel avenues for therapeutic manipulation

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