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Overexpression of the Ctla-4 isoform lacking exons 2 and 3 causes autoimmunity

Liu, SM;Sutherland, AP;Zhang, Z;Rainbow, DB;Quintana, FJ;Paterson, AM;Sharpe, AH;Oukka, M;Wicker, LS;Kuchroo, VK;

CTLA-4 is a potent inhibitor of T cell activation, primarily upon binding to its costimulatory ligands (B7.1 and B7.2) expressed on APCs. However, variants of CTLA-4 can also function independently of B7 molecules. 1/4CTLA-4 is a highly conserved isoform encoded by exons 1 and 4 of the Ctla4 gene that lacks the ligand-binding and the transmembrane domains, and as yet, its function is not known. To investigate the function of 1/4CTLA-4, we generated transgenic (Tg) mice overexpressing this variant. Cytokine production by 1/4CTLA-4 Tg T cells was elevated compared with wild type T cells. The frequency of CD44(high) memory T cells in 1/4CTLA-4 Tg mice was increased, and as the mice aged, the frequency further increased. 1/4CTLA-4 Tg mice >1 y old had increased expression of T cell activation markers and developed spontaneous autoimmunity, including elevated production of autoantibodies. In contrast with young 1/4CTLA-4 Tg mice, aged 1/4CTLA-4 Tg mice had elevated frequencies of Foxp3(+) regulatory T cells, but the regulatory T cells from these mice were not able to inhibit colitis development. Collectively, these data suggest that the function of the 1/4CTLA-4 isoform is distinct from that of CTLA-4 in that it enhances T cell activation and promotes autoimmunity rather than inhibiting immune responses.