Expanded antigen-specific engineered regulatory T cells (Tregs) have been proposed for potential clinical application for the treatment of undesirable immune responses, such as inhibitor responses in hemophilia A patients and autoimmune diseases. By providing an antigen-specific T-cell receptor (TCR) to polyclonal natural Tregs, we suggested that antigen-specific engineered Tregs would migrate specifically to particular target tissues and induce antigen-specific immune tolerance in the local milieu. Previously, we developed FVIII C2-specific Tregs using a long-term stabilization protocol in vitro and demonstrated that these stabilized engineered Tregs successfully modulated FVIII-specific T-cell- and B-cell immune responses. Herein, we examined the mechanism of suppression by antigen-specific engineered Tregs compared to polyclonal normal natural Tregs.

Initially, we tested whether these FVIII-specific engineered Tregs were able to suppress neighboring activated T-cell effectors locally. We found that FVIII C2-specific Tregs strongly suppressed myelin basic protein (MBP)-specific T effectors by presentation of both specific antigens in same APC population. However, we also observed that C2-specific Tregs could suppress MBP-specific T effectors presented on different APCs. These results imply contactless suppressive function of C2-specific engineered Tregs. Using a modified trans-well suppression assay, in which physical distance and clear separation between Tregs and a set of T effectors was created, we found that C2-specific activated Tregs showed significant contactless suppression only when T effectors were also present. In addition, and confirming previous studies with polyclonal Tregs, suppression by FVIII-specific engineered Tregs could be overcome by increasing the dose of IL-2 in co-culture media. This suggests that Tregs act, in part, by usurping IL-2 needed by T effectors to proliferate. Surprisingly, neutralization of CTLA-4 did not interfere with FVIII C2-specific suppression of engineered Tregs in contrast to the reversal seen with anti-CD3e-driven non-specific immunosuppression.

Our data strongly suggest that suppressive function of FVIII-specific engineered Tregs is not restricted to cell-to-cell contact. Rather cross-talk of engineered Tregs and T effectors potentially generate a contactless suppressive mechanism to suppress other FVIII-specific multiple effector cells in the local milieu for effective immune tolerance. Understanding the mechanism of contactless suppression mechanism should provide critical clues to develop more effective engineered Tregs as a therapeutic tool in hemophilia A.

(Supported by NIH grants HL061883 and HL126727)


Kim:Henry Jackson Foundation: Other: patent filed. Zhang:Henry Jackson Foundation: Other: patent filed. Scott:Henry Jackson Foundation: Other: patent filed.

Author notes


Asterisk with author names denotes non-ASH members.