IL-9-secreting (TH9) T cells are thought to represent a distinct T-cell subset. However, evidence for their functionality in disease is uncertain.
To define a functional phenotype for TH9-driven pathology in vivo.
We used fluorescence-activated cell sorting to identify circulating TH9 cells in atopic and nonatopic subjects. In mice we utilized a model of allergic airways disease induced by house dust mite to determine TH9 cell function in vivo and the role of activin A in TH9 generation.
Allergic patients have elevated TH9 cell numbers in comparison to nonatopic donors, which correlates with elevated IgE levels. In a murine model, allergen challenge with house dust mite leads to rapid TH9 differentiation and proliferation, with much faster kinetics than for TH2 cell differentiation, resulting in the specific recruitment and activation of mast cells. The TGF-β superfamily member activin A replicates the function of TGF-β1 in driving the in vitro generation of TH9 cells. Importantly, the in vivo inhibition of TH9 differentiation induced by allergen was achieved only when activin A and TGF-β were blocked in conjunction but not alone, resulting in reduced airway hyperreactivity and collagen deposition. Conversely, adoptive transfer of TH9 cells results in enhanced pathology.
Our data identify a distinct functional role for TH9 cells and outline a novel pathway for their generation in vitro and in vivo. Functionally, TH9 cells promote allergic responses resulting in enhanced pathology mediated by the specific recruitment and activation of mast cells in the lungs.