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Immunology - Respiratory Medicine

Immunophenotyping of Circulating T Helper Cells Argues for Multiple Functions and Plasticity of T Cells In Vivo in Humans - Possible Role in Asthma
Published: Friday, June 29, 2012
Author: Carina Malmhäll et al.

by Carina Malmhäll, Apostolos Bossios, Madeleine Rådinger, Margareta Sjöstrand, You Lu, Bo Lundbäck, Jan Lötvall


The immune process driving eosinophilic and non-eosinophilic asthma is likely driven by different subsets of T helper (Th) cells. Recently, in vitro studies and animal studies suggest that Th cell subsets displays plasticity by changing their transcription factor or by expressing multiple transcription factors. Our aim was to determine whether individuals with asthma and elevated circulating eosinophils express signs of different regulatory immune mechanisms compared with asthmatics with low blood eosinophils and non-asthmatic control subjects. In addition, determine the relationship between eosinophilia and circulating Th cell subsets.

Methodology/Principal findings

Participants were selected from a random epidemiological cohort, the West Sweden Asthma Study. Immunophenotypes of fresh peripheral blood cells obtained from stable asthmatics, with and without elevated eosinophilic inflammation (EOS high and EOS low respectively) and control subjects, were determined by flow cytometry. No differences in the number of Th1 (T-bet), Th2 (GATA-3), Th17 (ROR?t) or Treg (FOXP3) cells were observed between the groups when analysing each subset separately. However, in all groups, each of the Th subsets showed expression of additional canonical transcription factors T-bet, GATA-3, ROR?t and FOXP3. Furthermore, by in vitro stimulation with anti-CD3/anti-CD28 there was a significant increase of single expressing GATA-3+ and co-expressing T-bet+GATA-3+ cells in the EOS high asthmatics in comparison with control subjects. In addition, T-bet-GATA-3+ROR?t+FOXP3+ were decreased in comparison to the EOS low asthmatics. Finally, in a group of control subjects we found that the majority of proliferating Th cells (CD4+CD25+Ki67+) expressed three or four transcription factors.


The ability of human Th cells to express several regulatory transcription factors suggests that these cells may display plasticity in vivo.