A major concept in autoimmunity is that disruption of Foxp3+ regulatory T cells (Tregs) predisposes to breach of tolerance. This is exemplified by the Foxp3-linked disorder termed IPEX (immunodysregulation, polyendocrinopathy, enteropathy, X-linked) which affects newborn children. There has been considerable clinical interest in the role of non-depleting anti-CD4 antibodies as a means of upregulating the function of Foxp3+ Tregs in order to control detrimental inflammatory responses such as transplant rejection. However, according to the paradigm of a Treg-dependent mechanism of action, the effectiveness of anti-CD4 antibodies as a therapy for human autoimmune diseases is unclear considering that Treg function might be intrinsically impaired. Specifically, anti-CD4 therapy is expected to fail in patients suffering from the IPEX syndrome due to the lack of functional Foxp3+ Tregs. Taking advantage of natural Foxp3 mutant scurfy (sf) mice closely resembling the IPEX syndrome, and genetically engineered mice depleted of Foxp3+ Tregs, we report here that anti-CD4 treatment induces tolerance independent of Foxp3+ Tregs. This so far undefined mechanism is dependent on the recessive non-infectious tolerization of autoreactive T cells. Treg-independent tolerance alone is powerful enough to suppress both the onset and severity of autoimmunity and reduces clinically relevant autoantibody levels and liver fibrosis. Mechanistically, tolerance induction requires the concomitant activation of autoreactive T cells and is associated with the down-regulation of the co-stimulatory TNF-receptor superfamily members OX40 and CD30 sustaining CD4+ T cell survival. In the light of ongoing clinical trials, our results highlight an unexpected potency of anti-CD4 antibodies for the treatment of autoimmune diseases. Particularly, CD4 blockade might represent a novel therapeutic option for the human IPEX syndrome.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Immunology and Allergy