Contact-independent suppressive activity of regulatory T cells is associated with telomerase inhibition, telomere shortening and target lymphocyte apoptosis

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Abstract

Regulatory T cells (Tregs) play a fundamental role in the maintenance of immunological tolerance by suppressing effector target T, B and NK lymphocytes. Contact-dependent suppression mechanisms have been well–studied, though contact-independent Treg activity is not fully understood. In the present study, we showed that human native Tregs, as well as induced ex vivo Tregs, can cause in vitro telomere-dependent senescence in target T, B and NK cells in a contact-independent manner. The co-cultivation of target cells with Tregs separated through porous membranes induced alternative splicing of the telomerase catalytic subunit hTERT (human Telomerase Reverse Transcriptase), which suppressed telomerase activity. Induction of the hTERT splicing variant was associated with increased expression of the apoptotic endonuclease EndoG, a splicing regulator. Inhibited telomerase in target cells co-cultivated with Tregs for a long period of time led to a decrease in their telomere lengths, cell cycle arrest, conversion of the target cells to replicative senescence and apoptotic death. Induced Tregs showed the ability to up-regulate EndoG expression, TERT alternative splicing and telomerase inhibition in mouse T, B and NK cells after in vivo administration. The results of the present study describe a novel mechanism of contact-independent Treg cell suppression that induces telomerase inhibition through the EndoG-provoked alternative splicing of hTERT and converts cells to senescence and apoptosis phenotypes.

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