CD4+Foxp3+ regulatory T cells (Tregs) play an essential role in suppressing transplant rejection, but their role within the graft and heterogeneity in tolerance are poorly understood. Here, we compared phenotypic and transcriptomic characteristics of Treg populations within lymphoid organs and grafts in an islet xenotransplant model of tolerance. We showed Tregs were essential for tolerance induction and maintenance. Tregs demonstrated heterogeneity within the graft and lymphoid organs of tolerant mice. A subpopulation of CD127hi Tregs with memory features were found in lymphoid organs, presented in high proportions within long-surviving islet grafts, and had a transcriptomic and phenotypic profile similar to tissue Tregs. Importantly, these memory-like CD127hi Tregs were better able to prevent rejection by effector T cells, after adoptive transfer into secondary Rag–/– hosts, than naive Tregs or unselected Tregs from tolerant mice. Administration of IL-7 to the CD127hi Treg subset was associated with a strong activation of phosphorylation of STAT5. We proposed that memory-like CD127hi Tregs developed within the draining lymph node and underwent further genetic reprogramming within the graft toward a phenotype that had shared characteristics with other tissue or tumor Tregs. These findings suggested that engineering Tregs with these characteristics either in vivo or for adoptive transfer could enhance transplant tolerance.


Yuanfei Zhao, Leigh Nicholson, Hannah Wang, Yi Wen Qian, Wayne J. Hawthorne, Elvira Jimenez-Vera, Brian S. Gloss, Joey Lai, Adwin Thomas, Yi Vee Chew, Heather Burns, Geoff Y. Zhang, Yuan Min Wang, Natasha M. Rogers, Guoping Zheng, Shounan Yi, Stephen I. Alexander, Philip J. O’Connell, Min Hu


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