The role of regulatory T cells (T(regs)) in human colon cancer (CC) remains controversial: high densities of tumor-infiltrating T(regs) can correlate with better or worse clinical outcomes depending on the study. In mouse models of cancer, T(regs) have been reported to suppress inflammation and protect the host, suppress T cells and protect the tumor, or even have direct cancer-promoting attributes. These different effects may result from the presence of different T(reg) subsets. We report the preferential expansion of a T(reg) subset in human CC with potent T cell-suppressive, but compromised anti-inflammatory, properties; these cells are distinguished from T(regs) present in healthy donors by their coexpression of Foxp3 and RORgammat. T(regs) with similar attributes were found to be expanded in mouse models of hereditary polyposis. Indeed, ablation of the RORgammat gene in Foxp3(+) cells in polyp-prone mice stabilized T(reg) anti-inflammatory functions, suppressed inflammation, improved polyp-specific immune surveillance, and severely attenuated polyposis. Ablation of interleukin-6 (IL-6), IL-23, IL-17, or tumor necrosis factor-alpha in polyp-prone mice reduced polyp number but not to the same extent as loss of RORgammat. Surprisingly, loss of IL-17A had a dual effect: IL-17A-deficient mice had fewer polyps but continued to have RORgammat(+) T(regs) and developed invasive cancer. Thus, we conclude that RORgammat has a central role in determining the balance between protective and pathogenic T(regs) in CC and that T(reg) subtype regulates inflammation, potency of immune surveillance, and severity of disease outcome.
Type of Publication:
Journal article published