The immunotherapeutic role of regulatory T cells in Leishmania (Viannia) panamensis infection

Allison Ehrlich, Tiago Moreno Castilho, Karen Goldsmith-Pestana, Wook Jin Chae, Alfred L.M. Bothwell, Tim Sparwasser, Diane McMahon-Pratt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Leishmania (Viannia) parasites are etiological agents of cutaneous leishmaniasis in the New World. Infection is characterized by a mixed Th1/Th2 inflammatory response, which contributes to disease pathology. However, the role of regulatory T cells (Tregs) in Leishmania (Viannia) disease pathogenesis is unclear. Using the mouse model of chronic L. (V.) panamensis infection, we examined the hypothesis that Treg functionality contributes to control of pathogenesis. Upon infection, Tregs (CD4+Foxp3+) presented with a dysregulated phenotype, in that they produced IFN-γ, expressed Tbet, and had a reduced ability to suppress T cell proliferation in vitro. Targeted ablation of Tregs resulted in enlarged lesions, increased parasite load, and enhanced production of IL-17 and IFN-γ, with no change in IL-10 and IL-13 levels. This indicated that an increased inflammatory response was commensurate with disease exacerbation and that the remaining impaired Tregs were important in regulation of disease pathology. Conversely, adoptive transfer of Tregs from naive mice halted disease progression, lowered parasite burden, and reduced cytokine production (IL-10, IL-13, IL-17, IFN-γ). Because Tregs appeared to be important for controlling infection, we hypothesized that their expansion could be used as an immunotherapeutic treatment approach. As a proof of principle, chronically infected mice were treated with rIL-2/anti-IL-2 Ab complex to expand Tregs. Treatment transitorily increased the numbers and percentage of Tregs (draining lymph node, spleen), which resulted in reduced cytokine responses, ameliorated lesions, and reduced parasite load (105- fold). Thus, immunotherapy targeting Tregs could provide an alternate treatment strategy for leishmaniasis caused by Leishmania (Viannia) parasites.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2961-2970
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Immunology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Sep 15 2014
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


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