As shown in Fig. 3A, the expression levels of FOXP3 and IFN-γ in expanded E3-Th17 cells were not significantly altered even after culture for 9 days. However, the number of IL-17-producing cells significantly decreased during the culture, from above 60% to approximately 40%. Recent studies have shown that the stable expression of FOXP3 in
naturally occurring Tregs involves epigenetic regulations, including DNA methylation and histone modification 41, 43. Furthermore, these studies demonstrated that human FOXP3 contains several highly conserved demethylation regions that are exclusive for Tregs. Thus, we next investigated whether expanded Th17 cells expressing FOXP3 exhibited FOXP3 DNA demethylation. We designed the human FOXP3 methylation-specific primers based on the Treg-specific demethylated region (TSDR) within the OSI-906 mouse FOXP3 CpG island 43–45, and then compared the FOXP3 methylation levels in expanded Th17 cells, CD4+CD25+ naturally occurring Tregs and OKT3-activated naïve CD4+ T cells. As expected, the TSDR within FOXP3 of CD4+CD25+ Tregs was almost completely demethylated
compared with that of CD4+CD25– T cells (Fig. 3B). In contrast to CD4+CD25+ Tregs, FOXP3 methylation levels of two OKT3-activated naïve T cells were similar to levels in CD4+CD25– T cells (100% methylation), although approximately 15% of these activated cells expressed FOXP3. However, Th17 clones derived from different rounds of expansion displayed partial methylation in GSI-IX manufacturer TSDR within FOXP3, and this decreased significantly with increasing stimulation and expansion cycles. In addition, demethylation
levels of FOXP3 in Th17 clones at different expansion cycles were correlated positively with FOXP3 expression (Fig. 3B). These results indicate that epigenetic modification of FOXP3 occurred in Th17 cells following multiple cycles of in vitro TCR stimulation, resulting in increased Interleukin-3 receptor and stable expression of FOXP3 in expanded Th17 cells. It is well known that TCR–ligand interactions are critical for T-cell lineage commitment, including FOXP3 induction and Treg lineage differentiation 3, 16. Given that Th17 clones differentiate into IFN-γ-producing and FOXP3+ T cells after in vitro expansion, we next investigated whether TCR stimulation is the primary determinant for this process. E1-Th17 clones were expanded in vitro with allogeneic PBMCs in the presence or absence of OKT3 and then evaluated for the IL-17, IFN-γ, and FOXP3 expression. As shown in Fig. 4A, the proportions of IL-17-producing cell populations in Th17 clones were significantly decreased after in vitro expansion, regardless of whether the system included OKT3 or not. Notably, the Th17 clones contained higher percentages of IL-17-producing cells when cultures included both PBMCs and OKT3 than those in the absence of OKT3.