MicroRNAs targeting TGFβ signalling underlie the regulatory T cell defect in multiple sclerosis

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Abstract

Transforming growth factor beta (TGFβ) signalling is critical for regulatory T cell development and function, and regulatory T cell dysregulation is a common observation in autoimmune diseases, including multiple sclerosis. In a comprehensive miRNA profiling study of patients with multiple sclerosis naïve CD4 T cells, 19 differentially expressed miRNAs predicted to target the TGFβ signalling pathway were identified, leading to the hypothesis that miRNAs may be responsible for the regulatory T cell defect observed in patients with multiple sclerosis. Patients with multiple sclerosis had reduced levels of TGFβ signalling components in their naïve CD4 T cells. The differentially expressed miRNAs negatively regulated the TGFβ pathway, resulting in a reduced capacity of naïve CD4 T cells to differentiate into regulatory T cells. Interestingly, the limited number of regulatory T cells, that did develop when these TGFβ-targeting miRNAs were overexpressed, were capable of suppressing effector T cells. As it has previously been demonstrated that compromising TGFβ signalling results in a reduced regulatory T cell repertoire insufficient to control autoimmunity, and patients with multiple sclerosis have a reduced regulatory T cell repertoire, these data indicate that the elevated expression of multiple TGFβ-targeting miRNAs in naïve CD4 T cells of patients with multiple sclerosis impairs TGFβ signalling, and dampens regulatory T cell development, thereby enhancing susceptibility to developing multiple sclerosis.

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