Regulatory T cells protect against brain damage by alleviating inflammatory response in neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder

Xue Ma, Chuan Qin, Man Chen, Hai Han Yu, Yun Hui Chu, Ting Jun Chen, Dale B. Bosco, Long Jun Wu, Bi Tao Bu, Wei Wang, Dai Shi Tian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background and purpose: Neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMOSD) is mainly an anti-aquaporin 4 (anti-AQP4) autoantibodies-mediated idiopathic inflammatory demyelinating disease of the central nervous system. Systemic and local inflammatory responses play a key role in the pathophysiology of NMOSD. However, the role of the crucial immunomodulators CD4+CD25+ forkhead box P3+ (Foxp3) regulatory T cells (Tregs) has not been investigated in NMOSD. Methods: Twenty-five patients with anti-AQP4-postive NMOSD undergoing an attack and 21 healthy controls (HCs) were enrolled. Frequencies of T cell subsets and Tregs in the peripheral blood were assessed by flow cytometry. Additionally, a model of NMOSD using purified immunoglobulin G from anti-AQP4-antibodies-positive patients with NMOSD and human complement injected into brain of female adult C57BL/6J mice was established. Infiltrated Tregs into NMOSD mouse brain lesions were analyzed by flow cytometry, histological sections, and real-time quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction. Astrocyte loss, demyelination, and inflammatory response were also evaluated in our NMOSD mouse model. Finally, we examined the effects of both depletion and adoptive transfer of Tregs. Results: The percentage of Tregs, especially naïve Tregs, among total T cells in peripheral blood was significantly decreased in NMOSD patients at acute stage when compared to HCs. Within our animal model, the number and proportion of Tregs among CD4+ T cells were increased in the lesion of mice with NMOSD. Depletion of Tregs profoundly enhanced astrocyte loss and demyelination in these mice, while adoptive transfer of Tregs attenuated brain damage. Mechanistically, the absence of Tregs induced more macrophage infiltration, microglial activation, and T cells invasion, and modulated macrophages/microglia toward a classical activation phenotype, releasing more chemokines and pro-inflammatory cytokines. In contrast, Tregs transfer ameliorated immune cell infiltration in NMOSD mice, including macrophages, neutrophils, and T cells, and skewed macrophages and microglia towards an alternative activation phenotype, thereby decreasing the level of chemokines and pro-inflammatory cytokines. Conclusion: Tregs may be key immunomodulators ameliorating brain damage via dampening inflammatory response after NMOSD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number201
JournalJournal of Neuroinflammation
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


  • Inflammatory response
  • Macrophage
  • Microglia
  • Neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder
  • Regulatory T cells

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Immunology
  • Neurology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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