OX40 is a T cell costimulatory molecule that belongs to the TNFR superfamily. In the absence of immune activation, OX40 is selectively expressed by Foxp3 + regulatory T cells (Tregs), but not by resting conventional T cells. The exact role of OX40 in Treg homeostasis and function remains incompletely defined. In this study, we demonstrate that OX40 engagement in vivo in naive mice induces initial expansion of Foxp3 + Tregs, but the expanded Tregs have poor suppressive function and exhibit features of exhaustion. We also show that OX40 enables the activation of the Akt and Stat5 pathways in Tregs, resulting in transient proliferation of Tregs and reduced levels of Foxp3 expression. This creates a state of relative IL-2 deficiency in naive mice that further impacts Tregs. This exhausted Treg phenotype can be prevented by exogenous IL-2, as both OX40 and IL-2 agonists drive further expansion of Tregs in vivo. Importantly, Tregs expanded by both OX40 and IL-2 agonists are potent suppressor cells, and in a heart transplant model, they promote long-term allograft survival. Our data reveal a novel role for OX40 in promoting immune tolerance and may have important clinical implications.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Immunology and Allergy