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Diverting T helper cell trafficking through increased plasticity attenuates autoimmune encephalomyelitis

Califano, D;Sweeney, KJ;Le, H;VanValkenburgh, J;Yager, E;O'Connor, W;Kennedy, JS;Jones, DM;Avram, D;

Naive T helper cells differentiate into functionally distinct effector subsets that drive specialized immune responses. Recent studies indicate that some of the effector subsets have plasticity. Here, we used an EAE model and found that Th17 cells deficient in the transcription factor BCL11B upregulated the Th2-associated proteins GATA3 and IL-4 without decreasing RAR-related orphan receptor (RORt), IL-17, and GM-CSF levels. Surprisingly, abnormal IL-4 production affected Th17 cell trafficking, diverting migration from the draining lymph nodes/CNS route to the mesenteric lymph nodes/gut route, which ameliorated EAE without overt colitis. T helper cell rerouting in EAE was dependent on IL-4, which enhanced retinoic acid (RA) production by dendritic cells, which further induced expression of gut-homing receptors CCR9 and 47 on Bcl11b-deficient CD4+ T cells. Furthermore, IL-4 treatment or Th2 immunization of wild-type mice with EAE caused no alteration in Th17 cytokines or RORt, but diverted T helper cell trafficking to the gut, which improved EAE outcome without overt colitis. Our data demonstrate that Th17 cells are permissive to Th2 gene expression without affecting Th17 gene expression. This Th17 plasticity has an impact on trafficking, which is a critical component of the immune response and may represent a possible avenue for treating multiple sclerosis.