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The mechanisms underlying the therapeutic activity of interferon-β in multiple sclerosis are still not completely understood. In the present study, we evaluated the short and long-term effects of interferon-β treatment on different subsets of regulatory T cells in relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis patients biologically responsive to treatment because of mixovirus resistance protein A inducibility. In this prospective longitudinal study, subsets of natural regulatory T cells (naïve, central memory and effector memory) and inducible regulatory T cells (Tr1), as well as in vitro-induced regulatory T cells (Tr1-like cells), were simultaneously quantified by flow cytometry in samples prepared from 148 therapy-naïve multiple sclerosis patients obtained before and after 6, 12, 18, and 24 months of interferon-β-1a treatment. mRNA for interleukin-10 and Tr1-related genes (CD18, CD49b, and CD46, together with Cyt-1 and Cyt-2 CD46-associated isoforms) were quantified in Tr1-like cells. Despite profound inter-individual variations in the modulation of all regulatory T-cell subsets, the percentage of natural regulatory T cells increased after 6, 12, and 24 months of interferon-β treatment. This increase was characterized by the expansion of central and effector memory regulatory T-cell subsets. The percentage of Tr1 significantly enhanced at 12 months of therapy and continued to be high at the subsequent evaluation points. Patients experiencing relapses displayed a higher percentage of naïve regulatory T cells and a lower percentage of central memory regulatory T cells and of Tr1 before starting interferon-β therapy. In addition, an increase over time of central memory and of Tr1 was observed only in patients with stable disease. However, in vitro-induced Tr1-like cells, prepared from patients treated for 24 months, produced less amount of interleukin-10 mRNA compared with pre-treatment Tr1-like cells. Interferon-β induces the expansion of T regulatory subsets endowed with a high suppressive activity, especially in clinically stable patients. The overall concurrent modulation of natural and inducible regulatory T-cell subsets might explain the therapeutic effects of interferon-β in multiple sclerosis patients.


Marco Chiarini, Ruggero Capra, Federico Serana, Diego Bertoli, Alessandra Sottini, Viviana Giustini, Cristina Scarpazza, Marco Rovaris, Valentina Torri Clerici, Diana Ferraro, Simonetta Galgani, Claudio Solaro, Marta Zaffira Conti, Andrea Visconti, Luisa Imberti, SURROGATE Study Group. Simultaneous quantification of natural and inducible regulatory T-cell subsets during interferon-β therapy of multiple sclerosis patients. Journal of translational medicine. 2020 Apr 16;18(1):169

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PMID: 32299447

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