Low-dose IL-2 selectively activates subsets of CD4+ Tregs and NK cells

Masahiro Hirakawa, Tiago R. Matos, Hongye Liu, John Koreth, Haesook T. Kim, Nicole E. Paul, Kazuyuki Murase, Jennifer Whangbo, Ana C. Alho, Sarah Nikiforow, Corey Cutler, Vincent T. Ho, Philippe Armand, Edwin P. Alyea, Joseph H. Antin, Bruce R Blazar, Joao F. Lacerda, Robert J. Soiffer, Jerome Ritz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


CD4+ regulatory T cells (CD4Tregs) play a critical role in the maintenance of immune tolerance and prevention of chronic graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) after allogeneic hematopoietic stem cell transplantation. IL-2 supports the proliferation and survival of CD4Tregs and previous studies have demonstrated that IL-2 induces selective expansion of CD4Tregs and improves clinical manifestations of chronic GVHD. However, mechanisms for selective activation of CD4Tregs and the effects of low-dose IL-2 on other immune cells are not well understood. Using mass cytometry, we demonstrate that low concentrations of IL-2 selectively induce STAT5 phosphorylation in Helios+ CD4Tregs and CD56brightCD16- NK cells in vitro. Preferential activation and expansion of Helios+ CD4Tregs and CD56brightCD16- NK cells was also demonstrated in patients with chronic GVHD receiving low-dose IL-2. With prolonged IL-2 treatment for 48 weeks, phenotypic changes were also observed in Helios- CD4Tregs. The effects of low-dose IL-2 therapy on conventional CD4+ T cells and CD8+ T cells were limited to increased expression of PD-1 on effector memory T cells. These studies reveal the selective effects of low-dose IL-2 therapy on Helios+ CD4Tregs and CD56bright NK cells that constitutively express high-affinity IL-2 receptors as well as the indirect effects of prolonged exposure to low concentrations of IL-2 in vivo.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)e89278
JournalJCI insight
Issue number18
StatePublished - Nov 3 2016


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