Aplastic anemia is a severe bone marrow disorder characterized by the loss of hematopoietic stem cells (HSC). HSC destruction is thought to be T cell-mediated in a majority of patients with aplastic anemia. Global immunosuppression and HSC transplantation can induce disease remission, but these treatments are not effective in all patients and can promote life-threatening complications. Thus, novel immunomodulatory approaches are needed in this disorder. Notch is a conserved cell-cell communication pathway that can regulate T cell differentiation and function with context-dependent effects. To study the role of Notch signaling in pathogenic T cells causing immune-mediated bone marrow failure, we inhibited canonical Notch signaling in mature T cells through conditional expression of the pan-Notch inhibitor DNMAML (ROSA-DNMAMLf × Cd4-Cre mice). We used two complementary mouse models of immune-mediated bone marrow failure that mimic features of aplastic anemia: administration of C57BL/6 (B6) T cells into sublethally irradiated (500 rads) minor histocompatibility antigen mismatched BALB/b recipients (Chen et al., J Immunol 2007; 178:4159), or infusion of B6 lymphocytes into unirradiated MHC-mismatched B6×DBA F1 recipients. In contrast to control B6 T cells which led to lethal bone marrow failure in virtually all recipients, DNMAML-expressing Notch-deprived T cells were profoundly deficient at inducing HSC loss in both disease models, leading to markedly improved long-term survival (>90%). Notch-deficient T cells showed a modest decrease in overall expansion within secondary lymphoid organs, but their accumulation in the target bone marrow was preserved. Upon restimulation with anti-CD3 and anti-CD28 antibodies, DNMAML T cells had decreased production of IL-2 and interferon gamma. Activated CD4+ and CD8+ DNMAML T cells had reduced interferon gamma, granzyme B, and perforin transcripts despite preserved induction of the master transcription factors Tb×21 (encoding T-bet) and Eomes. In vivo infusion of CFSE-labeled host-type target cells revealed a decreased cytotoxicity in DNMAML as compared to control B6 T cell recipients. These observations point to a novel spectrum and mechanism of Notch action in mature T cells. Since we have shown recently that canonical Notch signaling is dispensable for the maintenance of adult HSCs (Maillard et al., Cell Stem Cell 2008, 2:356), our findings suggest that Notch inhibition could represent a novel therapeutic modality to target the T cell response and reverse immune-mediated HSC destruction in aplastic anemia.
Shan:American Society of Hematology: Research Funding. Zhang:University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center: Research Funding; Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation: Research Funding. Maillard:Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation: Research Funding; American Society of Hematology: Research Funding; University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center: Research Funding.
Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.