Search tips
Search criteria 


Logo of nihpaAbout Author manuscriptsSubmit a manuscriptHHS Public Access; Author Manuscript; Accepted for publication in peer reviewed journal;
Transplant Proc. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2010 November 12.
Published in final edited form as:
Transplant Proc. 1991 December; 23(6): 2950–2952.
PMCID: PMC2979305

Inhibition of T-Cell Function by FK 506 and Cyclosporine Is Not Accompanied by Alterations in Intracellular Calcium

FK 506 is a novel immunosuppressant that is more potent than cyclosporine (CyA) and has been used with encouraging results in preliminary clinical trials of organ transplantation.14 FK 506 is a macrolide whereas CyA is a cyclic peptide. Despite their structural differences and the fact that FK 506 and CyA bind to different cytosolic peptidyl-prolyl isomerases (PPIases), both agents have shown remarkably similar qualitative effects on in vitro T-cell function.58 Both FK 506 and CyA inhibit interleukin-2 (IL-2), IL-3, IL-4, tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α), and interferon gamma (INF-γ) synthesis as well as the mRNA levels of these cytokines during T-cell activation.59 Although these mechanisms may involve calcium-dependent pathways, it is unclear whether FK 506 and CyA actually alter signal transduction via changes in intracellular calcium ([Ca2+]i). Since FK 506 and CyA possess distinct cytosolic binding sites, it is conceivable that intracellular signaling via second messengers may be differentially affected by these two agents. Such differences could have important consequences in their mechanism of immunosuppression. The purpose of this study was to determine whether [Ca2+]i is involved in the suppression of T-cell function by FK 506 and CyA.



Female C57BL/6 (B6, H-2b) and DBA/2J (DBA, H-2d) mice were purchased from the Jackson Laboratory, Bar Harbor, Me. Mice were housed in plastic cages, provided with Purina Rodent Chow and tap water ad libitum, and used at 10 to 16 weeks of age.


Allosensitized T cells were derived from a day 7–10 B6 anti-DBA mixed leukocyte culture (MLC) as previously described.10

Ca2+1 Determinations

After washing three times, 2 × 107 MLC cells were loaded with the Ca2+ -sensitive fluorescent indicator Indo-1 (2 μmol/L) for 30 minutes and both baseline and stimulated (2 μg/mL concanavalin A [Con A]) [Ca2+]i was measured in a Shimadzu RF5000 fluorescence spectrophotometer, as previously described.11 FK 506, CyA, or the appropriate vehicle control was added to the cell suspensions with or without Con A.

Assessment of Proliferation

In order to correlate potential changes [Ca2+]i with concomitant alterations in T-cell function, proliferation (3HTdR uptake) in response to Con A (1 μg/mL) was also determined. Briefly, MLC cells (20,000 cells/well) were incubated in a final volume of 0.2 ml Dulbecco’s Modified Eagle’s Medium (DMEM) in triplicate flat-bottomed microtiter wells for 24 hours and pulsed with 2 μCi 3HTdR/well for the final 6.5 hours of the incubation period. Plates were then harvested onto glass fiber filter paper and the 3HTdR determined by liquid scintillation spectrophotometry, as previously described.10

Data Analysis

The data shown represent the mean ± SEM of results from three experiments.


As shown in Fig 1, both FK 506 and CyA inhibited MLC cell proliferation to Con A in a dose-dependent manner. FK 506 was approximately 100-fold more potent than CyA in this regard. In further experiments, FK 506 and CyA also inhibited MLC cell proliferation to monoclonal antibody (MAb) to CD3 (data not shown). In contrast, neither FK 506 nor CyA had any effect on either baseline or Con A-stimulated increases in [Ca2+]i, even at the highest doses tested (Fig 2). This held true when the drugs were added just before Con A as well as simultaneously or following Con A. Cell viability was unaffected by 24 hour exposure of MLC cells to the highest concentrations of FK 506 (10.0 ng/mL) or CyA (1,000.0 ng/mL) tested as determined by trypan blue exclusion.

Fig 1
FK 506 and CyA inhibit Con A-induced T-cell proliferation. Twenty-thousand cells derived from a day 7–9 MLC were cultured in the presence or absence of various concentrations of the indicated drug. The 3HTdR uptake was determined after 24 hours. ...
Fig 2
Effects of FK 506 and CyA on T-cell calcium signaling. 2 × 106 day 7–9 MLC cells were loaded with indo-l (2 μmol/L) for 30 minutes and basal (▫) and Con A-stimulated (■) [Ca2 +]i determined by fluorescence spectrophotometry. ...


We and others have previously shown that T-cell activation by mitogen is accompanied by an elevation in [Ca2+]i, 1114 This is true both for unsensitized and allosensitized T cells.11 In previous work, we have observed that increases in basal [Ca2+]i occur prior to maximal allosensitized T-cell proliferation in culture after antigen exposure but that even higher [Ca2+]i levels are detected well after the completion of DNA synthesis.11 This raises the question of whether [Ca2+]i may be a marker of the allosensitized state and whether elevated [Ca2+]i is in fact required for optimal T-cell function. It is tempting to speculate that [Ca2+]i may play an important role in maintaining or altering T-cell function within the allograft. It therefore became of interest to us to determine whether the immunosuppressive agents FK 506 and CyA, in addition to their inhibitory effects on T-cell proliferation and lymphokine synthesis, were capable of altering T-cell [Ca2+]i. At the concentrations of FK 506 and CyA that inhibit Con A-induced proliferation of allosensitized MLC cells, we failed to observe any inhibition of the rise in [Ca2+]i induced by triggering the TcR-CD3 complex with Con A. In subsequent experiments, we have also found that the rise in [Ca2+]i is preserved even following a 2-hour preincubation with either FK 506 or Cy A.

Thus, even though it has been shown that FK 506 and CyA inhibit certain T-cell activation steps that are calcium-dependent,6,1519 these agents in and of themselves do not appear to alter calcium fluxes in allosensitized murine T cells. Similar observations have been made in human tumor cell lines that are not allosensitized.18 It would appear that FK 506 and CyA inhibit T-cell function subsequent to the rise in [Ca2+]i that accompanies T-cell activation via the TcR-CD3 complex. Another novel immunosuppressive agent, rapamycin, appears to affect even later events during T-cell activation.6,20 We have not yet tested the effects of rapamycin on allosensitized T-cell calcium signaling. However, the observation that the calcium signal is preserved in the presence of FK 506 and CyA suggests that potential synergism of these drugs with agents inhibiting [Ca2+]i may exist.


Supported by a grant from the Veterans Administration Research Advisory Group.


1. Starzl TE, Todo S, Fung J, et al. Lancet. 1989;2:100. [PubMed]
2. Starzl TE, Fung J, Jordan ML, et al. JAMA. 1990;264:63. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
3. Shapiro R, Jordan ML, Fung J, et al. Transplant Proc. 1991;23:920. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
4. Armitage JM, Kormos RL, Griffith BP, et al. Transplant Proc. 1991;23:1149. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
5. Kay JE, Benzie CR, Goodier MR, et al. Immunology. 1987;67:473. [PubMed]
6. Dumont FJ, Staruch MJ, Koprak SL, et al. J Immunol. 1990;144:251. [PubMed]
7. Tocci MK, Matkovich DA, Collier KA, et al. J Immunol. 1989;143:718. [PubMed]
8. Yoshimura N, Matsui S, Hamashima T, et al. Transplantation. 1989;47:351. [PubMed]
9. Wang SC, Zeevi A, Tweardy DJ, et al. Transplant Proc. (this issue)
10. Jordan ML, Hoffman RA, Debe EF, et al. J Immunol. 1986;137:661. [PubMed]
11. Jordan ML, Vidgen DF, Wright J, et al. Transplantation. 1991;51:464. [PubMed]
12. Nisbet-Brown E, Cheung RK, Lee JWW, et al. Nature. 1985;316:545. [PubMed]
13. Imboden JB, Stobo JD. J Exp Med. 1985;161:446. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
14. Gelfand EW, Mills GB, Cheung RK, et al. Immunol Rev. 1987;95:59. [PubMed]
15. Metcalfe S. Transplantation. 1984;38:2. [PubMed]
16. Rosolf PM, Terres G. J Cell Biol. 1986;103:457. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
17. Mizushima Y, Kosaka H, Sakuma S, et al. J Biocem. 1987;102:1193. [PubMed]
18. Bierer BE, Schreiber SL, Burakoff SJ. Transplantation. 1990;49:1168. [PubMed]
19. Eiras G, Shimizu Y, van Seventer GA, et al. Transplant Proc. 1991;23:936. [PubMed]
20. Metcalfe S, Milner J. Transplantation. 1991;51:1318. [PubMed]