Respiratory research 2017 09 0818(1) 170 doi 10.1186/s12931-017-0653-3
Regulatory T cells (Tregs) are crucial in maintaining immune tolerance and immune homeostasis, but their role in idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is unclear. This study was designed to explore the role of Tregs in IPF.
Percentages of Tregs and their subpopulations in peripheral blood (PB) and bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) samples were determined by flow cytometry in 29 patients with IPF, 19 patients with primary Sjögren’s syndrome-related interstitial pneumonia (pSS-IP), and 23 healthy controls (HCs).
In peripheral blood, no difference was found in CD4(+)CD25(+)Foxp3(+) Treg percentages among patients with IPF, pSS-IP, or HCs. However, activated Treg (aTreg) fractions among CD4(+) T cells increased significantly in IPF compared with pSS-IP or HCs. Being consistent with the result from the PB, aTreg fractions among CD4(+) T cells in IPF also increased significantly compared with pSS-IP or HCs, accompanied by increased fraction III compared with HCs in BAL. IPF patients had lower levels of resting Tregs (rTregs) from the thymus than did HCs, whereas aTreg levels originating from the thymus did not significantly differ from HCs. Both rTregs and aTregs proliferated in IPF, with aTregs being more proliferative than rTregs. Both rTregs and aTregs significantly inhibited proliferation of CD4(+) T lymphocytes in vitro. The percentage of aTregs was correlated negatively with predicted diffusing capacity values for carbon monoxide and positively with GAP index in IPF.
Our study showed the imbalance between subpopulations of Tregs in IPF. Increased aTregs proportion in the peripheral blood correlated inversely with disease severity.