Foxp3+ Tregs are potent immunosuppressive CD4+ T cells that are critical to maintain immune quiescence and prevent autoimmunity. Both the generation and maintenance of Foxp3+ Tregs depend on the cytokine IL-2. Hence, the expression of the IL-2 receptor α-chain (CD25) is not only considered a specific marker, but also a nonredundant requirement for Tregs. Here, we report that Foxp3+ Tregs in the small intestine (SI) epithelium, a critical barrier tissue, are exempt from such an IL-2 requirement, since they had dramatically downregulated CD25 expression, showed minimal STAT5 phosphorylation ex vivo, and were unable to respond to IL-2 in vitro. Nonetheless, SI epithelial Tregs survived and were present at the same frequency as in other lymphoid organs, and they retained potent suppressor function that was associated with high levels of CTLA-4 expression and the production of copious amounts of IL-10. Moreover, adoptive transfer experiments of Foxp3+ Tregs revealed that such IL-2–independent survival and effector functions were imposed by the SI epithelial tissue, suggesting that tissue adaptation is a mechanism that tailors the effector function and survival requirements of Foxp3+ Tregs specific to the tissue environment.
Praveen Prakhar, Jaylene Alvarez-DelValle, Hilary Keller, Assiatu Crossman, Xuguang Tai, Yoo Kyoung Park, Jung-Hyun Park