Background: Non-Hodgkin lymphomas (NHL) are increasing in incidence and are now the fifth most common tumor diagnosed each year in the United States. Most NHLs are of B-cell origin but the tumor tissue is variably infiltrated with T-cells. Our group has shown in diffuse B-cell large cell lymphoma, that a high number of intratumoral CD4+ T-cells predicts a better overall survival. It has been shown that recently-characterized CD4+CD25+ regulatory T-cells (Treg cells) played an important role in the mediation of anti-tumor immunity. However, there is no data on the role of intratumoral Treg cells in suppression of autologous infiltrating CD4+ T-cells in B-cell NHL.

Goal: To investigate the effect of intratumoral Treg cells on the proliferation of tumor-infiltrating CD4+CD25- T-cells, to determine the underlying mechanism of the T-cell suppression, and evaluate the role that malignant B-cells may play in the recruitment of Treg cells to the site of B-cell NHL.

Results: We identified a subset of CD4+CD25+ T-cells over-represented in biopsy specimens of B-cell NHL (these cells comprise 17% of cells in lymphoma biopsies, compared 7% of peripheral blood mononuclear cells, 12% of cells in inflammatory tonsil and 6% of cells in tumor free lymph nodes; p-value =0.001). These CD4+CD25+ T-cells are memory-like T-cells (CD45RO+ and CD45RA−) and express high levels of CTLA-4 and Foxp3 when compared to autologous tumor-infiltrating CD4+CD25- T-cells. Importantly, these CD4+CD25+ T-cells displayed the ability to suppress the proliferation and cytokine (IFN-g and IL-4) production of tumor-infiltrating CD4+CD25- T-cells in response to PHA stimulation. Treatment with anti-B7-H1 antibody or PD-1 fusion protein enhanced the proliferation of infiltrating CD4+CD25- T-cells when co-cultured with intratumoral CD4+CD25+ T-cells. Our results suggest that interaction between B7-H1 and PD-1 accounts for about 30% of intratumoral Treg cell-mediated inhibition of autologous infiltrating CD4+CD25- T-cells in tumor sites of B-cell NHL. Lastly, we found that CCL22 secreted by lymphoma B-cells is involved in the chemotaxis and migration of intratumoral CD4+CD25+ T-cells which express chemokine receptor CCR4, but not CCR8.

Conclusion: Our results suggest that tumor microenvironmental CD4+CD25+ regulatory T-cells are important regulators of tumor immunity and that these cells are recruited to the area of lymphoma involvement by the malignant B-cells.

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