Circulating gluten-specific FOXP3+CD39+ regulatory T cells have impaired suppressive function in patients with celiac disease

Laura Cook, C. Mee Ling Munier, Nabila Seddiki, David J van Bockel, Noé Ontiveros, Melinda Y Hardy, Jana K. Gillies, Megan K. Levings, Hugh H. Reid, Jan Petersen, Jamie Rossjohn, Robert P Anderson, John Zaunders, Jason A Tye-Din, Anthony D Kelleher

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52 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Celiac disease is a chronic immune-mediated inflammatory disorder of the gut triggered by dietary gluten. Although the effector T-cell response in patients with celiac disease has been well characterized, the role of regulatory T (Treg) cells in the loss of tolerance to gluten remains poorly understood. Objective: We sought to define whether patients with celiac disease have a dysfunction or lack of gluten-specific forkhead box protein 3 (FOXP3)+ Treg cells. Methods: Treated patients with celiac disease underwent oral wheat challenge to stimulate recirculation of gluten-specific T cells. Peripheral blood was collected before and after challenge. To comprehensively measure the gluten-specific CD4+ T-cell response, we paired traditional IFN-γ ELISpot with an assay to detect antigen-specific CD4+ T cells that does not rely on tetramers, antigen-stimulated cytokine production, or proliferation but rather on antigen-induced coexpression of CD25 and OX40 (CD134). Results: Numbers of circulating gluten-specific Treg cells and effector T cells both increased significantly after oral wheat challenge, peaking at day 6. Surprisingly, we found that approximately 80% of the ex vivo circulating gluten-specific CD4+ T cells were FOXP3+CD39+ Treg cells, which reside within the pool of memory CD4+CD25+CD127lowCD45RO+ Treg cells. Although we observed normal suppressive function in peripheral polyclonal Treg cells from patients with celiac disease, after a short in vitro expansion, the gluten-specific FOXP3+CD39+ Treg cells exhibited significantly reduced suppressive function compared with polyclonal Treg cells. Conclusion: This study provides the first estimation of FOXP3+CD39+ Treg cell frequency within circulating gluten-specific CD4+ T cells after oral gluten challenge of patients with celiac disease. FOXP3+CD39+ Treg cells comprised a major proportion of all circulating gluten-specific CD4+ T cells but had impaired suppressive function, indicating that Treg cell dysfunction might be a key contributor to disease pathogenesis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1592-1603
Number of pages12
JournalThe Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2017


  • CD39
  • Celiac disease
  • Forkhead box protein 3
  • Gluten
  • OX40
  • Regulatory T cells

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