BACKGROUND & AIMS: CD4(+) CD25(+) Foxp3(+) regulatory T cells (Tregs) have a profound ability to control immune responses. We have previously shown that the liver is a major source of peripherally induced Tregs. Here, we investigate the liver cell types and molecular mechanisms responsible for hepatic Treg induction.
METHODS: To assess the Treg-inducing potential of liver resident antigen-presenting cell types, we studied the conversion of Foxp3(-) non-Tregs into Foxp3(+) Tregs induced by liver dendritic cells (DCs), liver sinusoidal endothelial cells (LSECs) or Kupffer cells (KCs). The dependency of Treg induction on TGF-β was tested in Treg conversion assays using T cells with reduced TGF-β sensitivity. The suppressive potential of liver cell-induced Tregs was assessed by an in vitro suppression assay and in vivo, in the model of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE).
RESULTS: All tested liver cell types were capable of inducing Foxp3(+) Tregs; however, LSECs were most efficient in inducing Tregs. Treg-induction was antigen-specific and depended on TGF-β. LSECs featured membrane-bound LAP/TGF-β and the anchor molecule GARP, which is required for tethering LAP/TGF-β to the cell membrane. LSEC-induced Tregs suppressed proliferation and cytokine secretion of effector T cells in vitro. LSEC-induced Tregs were also functional suppressors in vivo, as neuroantigen-specific Tregs induced by LSECs were able to suppress EAE.
CONCLUSIONS: We demonstrate that LSECs are the major liver cell type responsible for TGF-β dependent hepatic Treg induction. The extraordinary capacity of LSECs to induce Tregs was associated with their unique ability to tether TGF-β to their membrane.