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Complex human adenoid tissue-based ex vivo culture systems reveal anti-inflammatory drug effects on germinal center T and B cells

Schmidt, A;Huber, JE;Sercan Alp, ;Grkov, R;Reichel, CA;Herrmann, M;Keppler, OT;Leeuw, T;Baumjohann, D;

Human immunology research is often limited to peripheral blood. However, there are important differences between blood immune cells and their counterparts residing in secondary lymphoid organs, such as in the case of germinal center (GC) T follicular helper (Tfh) cells and GC B cells. We developed a versatile ex vivo lymphoid organ culture platform that is based on human pharyngeal tonsils (adenoids) and allows for drug testing. We systematically phenotyped Tfh and GC B cell subsets in explant- and suspension cultures using multicolor flow cytometry and cytokine multiplex analysis. Phenotypic changes of certain ex vivo cultured immune cell subsets could be modulated by cytokine addition. Furthermore, we optimized an activation-induced marker assay to evaluate the response to T cell stimulation. We provide proof-of-concept that Tfh and GC B cells could be modulated in these cultures by different anti-inflammatory drugs in unstimulated states and upon activation with vaccine-derived antigens. For example, GC B cells were lost upon CD40L blockade, and clinically approved JAK inhibitors impacted Tfh and GC B cells, including down-regulation of their key transcription factor BCL6. BCL6 regulation was affected by IL-6 signaling in T cells and IL-4 in B cells, respectively. Furthermore, we demonstrated that JAK signaling and TNF signaling contributed to the stimulation-induced activation of tonsil-derived T cells. Our optimized methods, assays, and mechanistic findings can contribute to a better understanding of human GC responses. These insights may be relevant for improving autoimmune disease therapy and vaccination efficacy. This work was supported by a project grant under the joint research cooperation agreement of LMU Munich, LMU University Hospital, and Sanofi-Aventis Deutschland GmbH, as well as by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) – Emmy Noether Programme BA 5132/1-1 and BA 5132/1-2 (252623821), SFB 1054 Project B12 (210592381), and SFB 914 Project B03 (165054336). Copyright 2020 The Authors. Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.