Adenosine 5'-triphosphate (ATP) plays a pivotal role in several cellular processes, through specific cell membrane purinergic P2 receptors (P2Rs). During inflammation and tumor cell growth, cell necrosis causes the release of intracellular ATP into the extracellular space, thus increasing from low (1–10 nM) to high (5–10 mM) the concentration of extracellular ATP. For this reason, variations in the extracellular ATP concentration might activate/inhibit the immune system.
Here we investigated the role of ATP on CD4+ T-cell functions. We first demonstrated the expression of P2Rs for extracellular nucleotides in human activated CD4+ T cells and regulatory T cells (Tregs) We then show that physiological concentrations of extracellular ATP (i.e. 1–50 nM) do not affect both activated CD4+ T cells and Tregs. Conversely, supraphysiological concentrations of ATP show a bimodal effect on activated CD4+ T cells. Whereas 250 nM of ATP stimulates proliferation, cytokine release, expression of adhesion molecules and adhesion, high ATP concentration (i.e. 1 mM) induces apoptosis and inhibits activated CD4+ T-cell functions. On the contrary, at the same high concentration, ATP enhances the proliferation, adhesion, migration and immunosuppressive ability of Tregs. Similar results are obtained when activated CD4+ T cells and Tregs are exposed to ATP released by necrotized leukemic blasts.
The present results provide evidence that different concentrations of extracellular ATP modulate T cells according to their activation status. Therefore, high concentrations of ATP, compatible with fast-growing tumors or hyper-inflamed tissues, may have a key role in killing activated CD4+ T cells and in expanding Tregs.
No relevant conflicts of interest to declare.
Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.