PloS one 2017 03 0712(3) e0173386 doi 10.1371/journal.pone.0173386
Peripheral regulatory CD4+ T cells (Treg cells) prevent maladaptive inflammatory responses to innocuous foreign antigens. Treg cell dysfunction has been linked to many inflammatory diseases, including allergic airway inflammation. Glucocorticoids that are used to treat allergic airway inflammation and asthma are thought to work in part by promoting Treg cell differentiation; patients who are refractory to these drugs have defective induction of anti-inflammatory Treg cells. Previous observations suggest that Treg cells deficient in the transcription factor FoxO1 are pro-inflammatory, and that FoxO1 activity is regulated by its phosphorylation status and nuclear localization. Here, we asked whether altering the phosphorylation state of FoxO1 through modulation of a regulatory phosphatase might affect Treg cell function. In a mouse model of house dust mite-induced allergic airway inflammation, we observed robust recruitment of Treg cells to the lungs and lymph nodes of diseased mice, without an apparent increase in the Treg cytokine interleukin-10 in the airways. Intriguingly, expression of PP2A, a serine/threonine phosphatase linked to the regulation of FoxO1 phosphorylation, was decreased in the mediastinal lymph nodes of HDM-treated mice, mirroring the decreased PP2A expression seen in peripheral blood monocytes of glucocorticoid-resistant asthmatic patients. When we asked whether modulation of PP2A activity alters Treg cell function via treatment with the PP2A inhibitor okadaic acid, we observed increased phosphorylation of FoxO1 and decreased nuclear localization. However, dysregulation of FoxO1 did not impair Treg cell differentiation ex vivo or cause Treg cells to adopt a pro-inflammatory phenotype. Moreover, inhibition of PP2A activity did not affect the suppressive function of Treg cells ex vivo. Collectively, these data suggest that modulation of the phosphorylation state of FoxO1 via PP2A inhibition does not modify Treg cell function ex vivo. Our data also highlight the caveat in using ex vivo assays of Treg cell differentiation and function, in that while these assays are useful, they may not fully recapitulate Treg cell phenotypes that are observed in vivo.