All-Trans retinoic acid promotes TGF-β-induced tregs via histone modification but not DNA demethylation on Foxp3 gene locus

Ling Lu, Jilin Ma, Zhiyuan Li, Qin Lan, Maogen Chen, Ya Liu, Zanxian Xia, Julie Wang, Yuanping Han, Wei Shi, Valerie Quesniaux, Bernhard Ryffel, David Brand, Bin Li, Zhongmin Liu, Song Guo Zheng

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97 Scopus citations


Background: It has been documented all-trans retinoic acid (atRA) promotes the development of TGF-β-induced CD4 +Foxp3 + regulatory T cells (iTreg) that play a vital role in the prevention of autoimmune responses, however, molecular mechanisms involved remain elusive. Our objective, therefore, was to determine how atRA promotes the differentiation of iTregs. Methodology/Principal Findings: Addition of atRA to naïve CD4 +CD25 - cells stimulated with anti-CD3/CD28 antibodies in the presence of TGF-β not only increased Foxp3 + iTreg differentiation, but maintained Foxp3 expression through apoptosis inhibition. atRA/TGF-β-treated CD4 + cells developed complete anergy and displayed increased suppressive activity. Infusion of atRA/TGF-β-treated CD4 + cells resulted in the greater effects on suppressing symptoms and protecting the survival of chronic GVHD mice with typical lupus-like syndromes than did CD4 + cells treated with TGF-β alone. atRA did not significantly affect the phosphorylation levels of Smad2/3 and still promoted iTreg differentiation in CD4 + cells isolated from Smad3 KO and Smad2 conditional KO mice. Conversely, atRA markedly increased ERK1/2 activation, and blockade of ERK1/2 signaling completely abolished the enhanced effects of atRA on Foxp3 expression. Moreover, atRA significantly increased histone methylation and acetylation within the promoter and conserved non-coding DNA sequence (CNS) elements at the Foxp3 gene locus and the recruitment of phosphor-RNA polymerase II, while DNA methylation in the CNS3 was not significantly altered. Conclusions/Significance: We have identified the cellular and molecular mechanism(s) by which atRA promotes the development and maintenance of iTregs. These results will help to enhance the quantity and quality of development of iTregs and may provide novel insights into clinical cell therapy for patients with autoimmune diseases and those needing organ transplantation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere24590
JournalPloS one
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 13 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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