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T cell apoptosis and induction of Foxp3+ regulatory T cells underlie the therapeutic efficacy of CD4 blockade in experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis

Duarte, J;Carri, N;Oliveira, VG;Almeida, C;Agua-Doce, A;Rodrigues, L;Simas, JP;Mars, LT;Graca, L;

The pathogenesis of multiple sclerosis requires the participation of effector neuroantigen-specific T cells. Thus, T cell targeting has been proposed as a promising therapeutic strategy. However, the mechanism underlying effective disease prevention following T cell targeting remains incompletely known. We found, using several TCR-transgenic strains, that CD4 blockade is effective in preventing experimental autoimmune encephalopathy and in treating mice after the disease onset. The mechanism does not rely on direct T cell depletion, but the anti-CD4 mAb prevents the proliferation of naive neuroantigen-specific T cells, as well as acquisition of effector Th1 and Th17 phenotypes. Simultaneously, the mAb favors peripheral conversion of Foxp3(+) regulatory T cells. Pre-existing effector cells, or neuroantigen-specific cells that undergo cell division despite the presence of anti-CD4, are committed to apoptosis. Therefore, protection from experimental autoimmune encephalopathy relies on a combination of dominant mechanisms grounded on regulatory T cell induction and recessive mechanisms based on apoptosis of neuropathogenic cells. We anticipate that the same mechanisms may be implicated in other T cell-mediated autoimmune diseases that can be treated or prevented with Abs targeting T cell molecules, such as CD4 or CD3.