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1.  Role of “Western Diet” in Inflammatory Autoimmune Diseases 
Developed societies, although having successfully reduced the burden of infectious disease, constitute an environment where metabolic, cardiovascular, and autoimmune diseases thrive. Living in westernized countries has not fundamentally changed the genetic basis on which these diseases emerge, but has strong impact on lifestyle and pathogen exposure. In particular, nutritional patterns collectively termed the “Western diet”, including high-fat and cholesterol, high-protein, high-sugar, and excess salt intake, as well as frequent consumption of processed and ‘fast foods’, promote obesity, metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular disease. These factors have also gained high interest as possible promoters of autoimmune diseases. Underlying metabolic and immunologic mechanisms are currently being intensively explored. This review discusses the current knowledge relative to the association of “Western diet” with autoimmunity, and highlights the role of T cells as central players linking dietary influences to autoimmune pathology.
PMCID: PMC4034518  PMID: 24338487
Western diet; Autoimmune diseases; Autoimmunity; Obesity; Sodium; Inflammatory; Gut microbiome; T cell regulation
2.  Clinical relevance and functional consequences of the TNFRSF1A multiple sclerosis locus 
Neurology  2013;81(22):1891-1899.
We set out to characterize the clinical impact and functional consequences of rs1800693G, the multiple sclerosis (MS) susceptibility allele found in the TNFRSF1A locus.
We analyzed prospectively collected data on patients with MS to assess the role of the TNFRSF1A locus on disease course and treatment response. Using archival serum samples and freshly isolated monocytes from patients with MS and healthy subjects, we evaluated the effects of rs1800693G and a second risk allele, R92Q, on immune function.
In 772 patients with MS, we see no evidence that rs1800693G strongly influences clinical or radiographic indices of disease course and treatment response; thus, rs1800693G appears to be primarily involved in the onset of MS. At the molecular level, this validated susceptibility allele generates an RNA isoform, TNFRSF1A Δ6, that lacks the transmembrane and cytoplasmic domains. While there was no measurable effect on serum levels of soluble TNFRSF1A, rs1800693G appears to alter the state of monocytes, which demonstrate a more robust transcriptional response of CXCL10 and other genes in response to tumor necrosis factor (TNF)–α. We also report that activation of the TNF-α pathway results in altered expression of 6 other MS susceptibility genes, including T-cell activation rho GTPase activating protein (TAGAP) and regulator of G-protein signaling 1 (RGS1), which are not previously known to be responsive to TNF-α.
The MS rs1800693G susceptibility allele affects the magnitude of monocyte responses to TNF-α stimulation, and the TNF pathway may be one network in which the effect of multiple MS genes becomes integrated.
PMCID: PMC3843384  PMID: 24174586
3.  The plasticity of human Treg and Th17 cells and its role in autoimmunity 
Seminars in immunology  2013;25(4):305-312.
CD4+ T helper cells are a central element of the adaptive immune system. They protect the organism against a wide range of pathogens and are able to initiate and control many immune reactions in combination with other cells of the adaptive and the innate immune system. Starting from a naïve cell, CD4+ T cells can differentiate into various effector cell populations with specialized function. This subset specific differentiation depends on numerous signals and the strength of stimulation. However, recent data have shown that differentiated CD4+ T cell subpopulations display a high grade of plasticity and that their initial differentiation is not an endpoint of T cell development. In particular, FoxP3+ regulatory T cells (Treg) and Th17 effector T cells demonstrate a high grade of plasticity, which allow a functional adaptation to various physiological situations during an immune response. However, the plasticity of Treg and Th17 cells might also be a critical factor for autoimmune disease. Here we discuss the recent developments in CD4+ T cell plasticity with a focus on Treg and Th17 cells and its role in human autoimmune disease, in particular multiple sclerosis (MS).
PMCID: PMC3905679  PMID: 24211039
Autoimmunity; CD4+ T cells; IL-17; Th17; FoxP3; Treg; T cell plasticity
4.  The CD226/CD155 interaction regulates the pro-inflammatory (Th1/Th17)/ anti-inflammatory (Th2) balance in humans 
Journal of immunology (Baltimore, Md. : 1950)  2013;191(7):10.4049/jimmunol.1300945.
CD226 costimulatory signals strongly promote Th1 differentiation enhancing IFNγ production by naïve T cells. We recently reported that knockdown of CD226 on human T cells resulted in a decrease in T-bet and IFNγ expression. However, the role of CD226 on Th2 and Th17 cells remains unknown. Here, we found that CD226 and its ligand CD155 were decreased on Th2-polarized naïve T cells whereas both were highly expressed under Th17 conditions. Most IFNγ and IL-17 producing cells expressed high levels of CD226 but production of IL-13 did not correlate with CD226 expression. CD226 knockdown by lentiviral transduction resulted in increased STAT-6 phosphorylation, enhanced GATA3 expression and consequently higher production of IL-4 and IL-13. Under Th17 conditions, CD226-depleted cells showed slightly impaired IL-17 secretion suggesting that CD226 partially contributes to IL-17 production but is dispensable for Th17 cell generation. In line with these results, CD226 blockade with neutralizing antibodies efficiently inhibited T cell activation, proliferation and production of IFNγ and IL-17 whereas IL-13 secretion remained functional. Taken together, our results establish an important role for CD226 in differentially regulating the pro-inflammatory (Th1/Th17)/anti-inflammatory (Th2) balance, suggesting that the CD226/CD155 interaction could potentially be targeted in therapeutic approaches to human autoimmune diseases.
PMCID: PMC3819731  PMID: 23980210
5.  Protein array–based profiling of CSF identifies RBPJ as an autoantigen in multiple sclerosis 
Neurology  2013;81(11):956-963.
To profile the reactivity of CSF-derived immunoglobulin from patients with multiple sclerosis (MS) against a large panel of antigens, to identify disease-specific reactivities.
CSF from subjects with MS with elevated immunoglobulin G and CSF from control subjects presenting with other inflammatory neurologic disease were screened against a protein array consisting of 9,393 proteins. Reactivity to a candidate protein identified using these arrays was confirmed with ELISA and immunocytochemistry.
Autoantibodies against one protein on the array, recombination signal binding protein for immunoglobulin kappa J region (RBPJ), discriminated between patients with MS and controls (p = 0.0052). Using a large validation cohort, we found a higher prevalence of autoantibodies against RBPJ in the CSF of patients with MS (12.5%) compared with the CSF of patients with other neurologic diseases (1.6%; p = 0.02) by ELISA. This difference in reactivity was restricted to the CSF as serum reactivity against RBPJ did not differ between patients and controls. The presence of CSF autoantibodies against RBPJ was further confirmed by immunocytochemistry.
These data indicate that RBPJ, a ubiquitous protein of the Notch signaling pathway that plays an important role in Epstein-Barr virus infection, is a novel MS autoantigen candidate that is recognized by CSF-derived immunoglobulin G in a subset of patients with MS.
PMCID: PMC3888197  PMID: 23921886
6.  Common Genetic Variants Modulate Pathogen-Sensing Responses in Human Dendritic Cells 
Science (New York, N.Y.)  2014;343(6175):1246980.
Little is known about how human genetic variation affects the responses to environmental stimuli in the context of complex diseases. Experimental and computational approaches were applied to determine the effects of genetic variation on the induction of pathogen-responsive genes in human dendritic cells. We identified 121 common genetic variants associated in cis with variation in expression responses to E. coli lipopolysaccharide, influenza or interferon-β (IFNβ). We localized and validated causal variants to binding sites of pathogen-activated STAT and IRF transcription factors. We also identified a common variant in IRF7 that is associated in trans with type I interferon induction in response to influenza infection. Our results reveal common alleles that explain inter-individual variation in pathogen sensing and provide functional annotation for genetic variants that alter susceptibility to inflammatory diseases.
PMCID: PMC4124741  PMID: 24604203
7.  Engineered Interleukin-2 Antagonists for the Inhibition of Regulatory T cells 
The immunosuppressive effects of CD4+ CD25high regulatory T cells interfere with anti-tumor immune responses in cancer patients. Here, we present a novel class of engineered human Interleukin (IL)-2 analogues that antagonize the IL-2 receptor, for inhibiting regulatory T cell suppression. These antagonists have been engineered for high affinity to the α subunit of the IL-2 receptor and very low affinity to either the β or γ subunit, resulting in a signaling-deficient IL-2 analogue that sequesters the IL-2 receptor α subunit from wild type IL-2. Two variants, “V91R” and “Q126T” with residue substitutions that disrupt the β and γ subunit binding interfaces, respectively, have been characterized in both a T cell line and in human primary regulatory T cells. These mutants retain their high affinity binding to IL-2 receptor α subunit, but do not activate STAT5 phosphorylation or stimulate T cell growth. The two mutants competitively antagonize wild-type IL-2 signaling through the IL-2 receptor with similar efficacy, with inhibition constants of 183 pM for V91R and 216 pM for Q126T. Here, we present a novel approach to CD25-mediated Treg inhibition, with the use of an engineered human IL-2 analogue that antagonizes the IL-2 receptor.
PMCID: PMC4078882  PMID: 19816193
Interleukin-2; regulatory T cells; antagonist engineering; cytokine engineering
8.  Joint Modeling and Registration of Cell Populations in Cohorts of High-Dimensional Flow Cytometric Data 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(7):e100334.
In biomedical applications, an experimenter encounters different potential sources of variation in data such as individual samples, multiple experimental conditions, and multivariate responses of a panel of markers such as from a signaling network. In multiparametric cytometry, which is often used for analyzing patient samples, such issues are critical. While computational methods can identify cell populations in individual samples, without the ability to automatically match them across samples, it is difficult to compare and characterize the populations in typical experiments, such as those responding to various stimulations or distinctive of particular patients or time-points, especially when there are many samples. Joint Clustering and Matching (JCM) is a multi-level framework for simultaneous modeling and registration of populations across a cohort. JCM models every population with a robust multivariate probability distribution. Simultaneously, JCM fits a random-effects model to construct an overall batch template – used for registering populations across samples, and classifying new samples. By tackling systems-level variation, JCM supports practical biomedical applications involving large cohorts. Software for fitting the JCM models have been implemented in an R package EMMIX-JCM, available from
PMCID: PMC4077578  PMID: 24983991
9.  Decreased RORC-dependent silencing of prostaglandin receptor EP2 induces autoimmune Th17 cells 
The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2014;124(6):2513-2522.
Prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) promotes Th17 expansion while otherwise inhibiting other CD4+ T cell subsets. Here, we identified a PGE2-dependent pathway that induces pathogenic Th17 cells in autoimmune disease and is regulated by the transcription factor RORC. Compared with other CD4+ cell types from healthy subjects, there is a surprising lack of the prostaglandin receptor EP2 on Th17 cells; therefore, we examined the hypothesis that RORγt, which is highly expressed in Th17 cells, mediates EP2 downregulation. Chromatin immunoprecipitation followed by DNA sequencing revealed that RORγt binds directly to Ptger2 (the gene encoding EP2 receptor) in Th17 cells isolated from WT mice. In Th17 cells isolated from humans, RORC repressed EP2 by directly silencing PTGER2 transcription, and knock down of RORC restored EP2 expression in Th17 cells. Compared with Th17 cells from healthy individuals, Th17 cells from patients with MS exhibited reduced RORC binding to the PTGER2 promoter region, resulting in higher EP2 levels and increased expression of IFN-γ and GM-CSF. Finally, overexpression of EP2 in Th17 cells from healthy individuals induced a specific program of inflammatory gene transcription that produced a pathogenic Th17 cell phenotype. These findings reveal that RORC directly regulates the effects of PGE2 on Th17 cells, and dysfunction of this pathway induces a pathogenic Th17 cell phenotype.
PMCID: PMC4089462  PMID: 24812667
10.  Analysis of immune-related loci identifies 48 new susceptibility variants for multiple sclerosis 
Beecham, Ashley H | Patsopoulos, Nikolaos A | Xifara, Dionysia K | Davis, Mary F | Kemppinen, Anu | Cotsapas, Chris | Shahi, Tejas S | Spencer, Chris | Booth, David | Goris, An | Oturai, Annette | Saarela, Janna | Fontaine, Bertrand | Hemmer, Bernhard | Martin, Claes | Zipp, Frauke | D’alfonso, Sandra | Martinelli-Boneschi, Filippo | Taylor, Bruce | Harbo, Hanne F | Kockum, Ingrid | Hillert, Jan | Olsson, Tomas | Ban, Maria | Oksenberg, Jorge R | Hintzen, Rogier | Barcellos, Lisa F | Agliardi, Cristina | Alfredsson, Lars | Alizadeh, Mehdi | Anderson, Carl | Andrews, Robert | Søndergaard, Helle Bach | Baker, Amie | Band, Gavin | Baranzini, Sergio E | Barizzone, Nadia | Barrett, Jeffrey | Bellenguez, Céline | Bergamaschi, Laura | Bernardinelli, Luisa | Berthele, Achim | Biberacher, Viola | Binder, Thomas M C | Blackburn, Hannah | Bomfim, Izaura L | Brambilla, Paola | Broadley, Simon | Brochet, Bruno | Brundin, Lou | Buck, Dorothea | Butzkueven, Helmut | Caillier, Stacy J | Camu, William | Carpentier, Wassila | Cavalla, Paola | Celius, Elisabeth G | Coman, Irène | Comi, Giancarlo | Corrado, Lucia | Cosemans, Leentje | Cournu-Rebeix, Isabelle | Cree, Bruce A C | Cusi, Daniele | Damotte, Vincent | Defer, Gilles | Delgado, Silvia R | Deloukas, Panos | di Sapio, Alessia | Dilthey, Alexander T | Donnelly, Peter | Dubois, Bénédicte | Duddy, Martin | Edkins, Sarah | Elovaara, Irina | Esposito, Federica | Evangelou, Nikos | Fiddes, Barnaby | Field, Judith | Franke, Andre | Freeman, Colin | Frohlich, Irene Y | Galimberti, Daniela | Gieger, Christian | Gourraud, Pierre-Antoine | Graetz, Christiane | Graham, Andrew | Grummel, Verena | Guaschino, Clara | Hadjixenofontos, Athena | Hakonarson, Hakon | Halfpenny, Christopher | Hall, Gillian | Hall, Per | Hamsten, Anders | Harley, James | Harrower, Timothy | Hawkins, Clive | Hellenthal, Garrett | Hillier, Charles | Hobart, Jeremy | Hoshi, Muni | Hunt, Sarah E | Jagodic, Maja | Jelčić, Ilijas | Jochim, Angela | Kendall, Brian | Kermode, Allan | Kilpatrick, Trevor | Koivisto, Keijo | Konidari, Ioanna | Korn, Thomas | Kronsbein, Helena | Langford, Cordelia | Larsson, Malin | Lathrop, Mark | Lebrun-Frenay, Christine | Lechner-Scott, Jeannette | Lee, Michelle H | Leone, Maurizio A | Leppä, Virpi | Liberatore, Giuseppe | Lie, Benedicte A | Lill, Christina M | Lindén, Magdalena | Link, Jenny | Luessi, Felix | Lycke, Jan | Macciardi, Fabio | Männistö, Satu | Manrique, Clara P | Martin, Roland | Martinelli, Vittorio | Mason, Deborah | Mazibrada, Gordon | McCabe, Cristin | Mero, Inger-Lise | Mescheriakova, Julia | Moutsianas, Loukas | Myhr, Kjell-Morten | Nagels, Guy | Nicholas, Richard | Nilsson, Petra | Piehl, Fredrik | Pirinen, Matti | Price, Siân E | Quach, Hong | Reunanen, Mauri | Robberecht, Wim | Robertson, Neil P | Rodegher, Mariaemma | Rog, David | Salvetti, Marco | Schnetz-Boutaud, Nathalie C | Sellebjerg, Finn | Selter, Rebecca C | Schaefer, Catherine | Shaunak, Sandip | Shen, Ling | Shields, Simon | Siffrin, Volker | Slee, Mark | Sorensen, Per Soelberg | Sorosina, Melissa | Sospedra, Mireia | Spurkland, Anne | Strange, Amy | Sundqvist, Emilie | Thijs, Vincent | Thorpe, John | Ticca, Anna | Tienari, Pentti | van Duijn, Cornelia | Visser, Elizabeth M | Vucic, Steve | Westerlind, Helga | Wiley, James S | Wilkins, Alastair | Wilson, James F | Winkelmann, Juliane | Zajicek, John | Zindler, Eva | Haines, Jonathan L | Pericak-Vance, Margaret A | Ivinson, Adrian J | Stewart, Graeme | Hafler, David | Hauser, Stephen L | Compston, Alastair | McVean, Gil | De Jager, Philip | Sawcer, Stephen | McCauley, Jacob L
Nature genetics  2013;45(11):10.1038/ng.2770.
Using the ImmunoChip custom genotyping array, we analysed 14,498 multiple sclerosis subjects and 24,091 healthy controls for 161,311 autosomal variants and identified 135 potentially associated regions (p-value < 1.0 × 10-4). In a replication phase, we combined these data with previous genome-wide association study (GWAS) data from an independent 14,802 multiple sclerosis subjects and 26,703 healthy controls. In these 80,094 individuals of European ancestry we identified 48 new susceptibility variants (p-value < 5.0 × 10-8); three found after conditioning on previously identified variants. Thus, there are now 110 established multiple sclerosis risk variants in 103 discrete loci outside of the Major Histocompatibility Complex. With high resolution Bayesian fine-mapping, we identified five regions where one variant accounted for more than 50% of the posterior probability of association. This study enhances the catalogue of multiple sclerosis risk variants and illustrates the value of fine-mapping in the resolution of GWAS signals.
PMCID: PMC3832895  PMID: 24076602
11.  Soluble IL-2RA Levels in Multiple Sclerosis Subjects and the Effect of Soluble IL-2RA on Immune Responses1 
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an organ-specific autoimmune disorder that is in part genetically determined. The gene encoding the α-chain of the IL-2 receptor, IL2RA, harbors alleles associated with risk to MS and other autoimmune diseases. In addition, IL2RA genetic variants correlate with the levels of a soluble form of the IL-2 receptor in subjects with type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis. Here, we show that the IL2RA genotypes differentially affects soluble IL-2RA (sIL-2RA) levels in MS cases vs healthy controls; the two variants associated with MS (rs12722489 and rs2104286) account for 15 and 18% of the total variance in log10-transformed sIL-2RA concentration in control subjects but less so in subjects with MS (2 and 5%), suggesting that perturbations associated with disease or treatment may influence sIL-2RA levels in subjects with MS. Whereas analyses demonstrate that sIL-2RA serum concentrations are a remarkably stable phenotype in both healthy controls and untreated MS subjects, a difference is observed between benign and malignant MS. These data indicate that, in addition to specific allelic variants at IL2RA, immunological perturbations associated with aggressive forms of the disease can influence sIL-2RA levels in serum of MS subjects. We also demonstrate, functionally, that sIL-2RA can inhibit IL-2 signaling, yet enhance T cell proliferation and expansion. In summary, we propose that before disease onset, strong genetic factors associated with disease risk dictate sIL-2RA levels that may be further modulated with onset of chronic systemic inflammation associated with MS.
PMCID: PMC3992946  PMID: 19155502
12.  PhIP-Seq characterization of autoantibodies from patients with multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis 
Journal of autoimmunity  2013;43:1-9.
Autoimmune disease results from a loss of tolerance to self-antigens in genetically susceptible individuals. Completely understanding this process requires that targeted antigens be identified, and so a number of techniques have been developed to determine immune receptor specificities. We previously reported the construction of a phage-displayed synthetic human peptidome and a proof-of-principle analysis of antibodies from three patients with neurological autoimmunity. Here we present data from a large-scale screen of 298 independent antibody repertoires, including those from 73 healthy sera, using phage immunoprecipitation sequencing. The resulting database of peptide-antibody interactions characterizes each individual’s unique autoantibody fingerprint, and includes specificities found to occur frequently in the general population as well as those associated with disease. Screening type 1 diabetes (T1D) patients revealed a prematurely polyautoreactive phenotype compared with their matched controls. A collection of cerebrospinal fluids and sera from 63 multiple sclerosis patients uncovered novel, as well as previously reported antibody-peptide interactions. Finally, a screen of synovial fluids and sera from 64 rheumatoid arthritis patients revealed novel disease-associated antibody specificities that were independent of seropositivity status. This work demonstrates the utility of performing PhIP-Seq screens on large numbers of individuals and is another step toward defining the full complement of autoimmunoreactivities in health and disease.
PMCID: PMC3677742  PMID: 23497938
autoantigen discovery; high throughput screening; PhIP-Seq; proteomics
13.  Fine-Mapping the Genetic Association of the Major Histocompatibility Complex in Multiple Sclerosis: HLA and Non-HLA Effects 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(11):e1003926.
The major histocompatibility complex (MHC) region is strongly associated with multiple sclerosis (MS) susceptibility. HLA-DRB1*15:01 has the strongest effect, and several other alleles have been reported at different levels of validation. Using SNP data from genome-wide studies, we imputed and tested classical alleles and amino acid polymorphisms in 8 classical human leukocyte antigen (HLA) genes in 5,091 cases and 9,595 controls. We identified 11 statistically independent effects overall: 6 HLA-DRB1 and one DPB1 alleles in class II, one HLA-A and two B alleles in class I, and one signal in a region spanning from MICB to LST1. This genomic segment does not contain any HLA class I or II genes and provides robust evidence for the involvement of a non-HLA risk allele within the MHC. Interestingly, this region contains the TNF gene, the cognate ligand of the well-validated TNFRSF1A MS susceptibility gene. The classical HLA effects can be explained to some extent by polymorphic amino acid positions in the peptide-binding grooves. This study dissects the independent effects in the MHC, a critical region for MS susceptibility that harbors multiple risk alleles.
Author Summary
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an inflammatory and neurodegenerative disease with a heritable component. Although it has been known for a long time that the strongest MS risk factor maps to the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) on chromosome 6, there are still many unresolved questions as to the identity and the nature of the risk variants within the MHC. Because the MHC has a complex structure, systematic investigation across this region has been challenging. In this study, we used state-of-the-art imputation methods coupled to statistical regression to query variants in the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) class I and II genes for a role in MS risk. Starting from available SNP genotype data, we replicated the strongest risk factor, the HLA-DRB1*15:01 allele, and were able to identify 11 independent effects in total. Functional studies are now needed to understand their mechanism in MS etiology.
PMCID: PMC3836799  PMID: 24278027
14.  Prostaglandin E2 affects T cell responses through modulation of CD46 expression1 
The ubiquitous protein CD46, a regulator of complement activity, promotes T cell activation and differentiation towards a regulatory Tr1-like phenotype. CD46-mediated differentiation pathway is defective in several chronic inflammatory diseases, underlying the importance of CD46 in controlling T cell function and the need to understand its regulatory mechanisms. Using an RNAi-based screening approach in primary T cells, we have identified that two members of the G-protein coupled receptor (GPCR) kinases were involved in regulating CD46 expression at the surface of activated cells. We have investigated the role of prostaglandin E2 (PGE2), which binds to the E-prostanoid family of GPCRs through four subtypes of receptors called EP1-4, in the regulation of CD46 expression and function. Conflicting roles of PGE2 in T cell functions have been reported, and the reasons for these apparent discrepancies are not well understood. We show that addition of PGE2 strongly downregulates CD46 expression in activated T cells. Moreover, PGE2 differentially affects T cell activation, cytokine production and phenotype depending on the activation signals received by the T cells. This was correlated with a distinct pattern of the PGE2 receptors induced, with EP4 being preferentially induced by CD46 activation. Indeed, addition of an EP4 antagonist could reverse the effects observed on cytokine production observed following CD46 costimulation. These data demonstrate a novel role of the PGE2-EP4-GRK axis in CD46 functions, which might at least partly explain the diverse roles of PGE2 in T cell functions.
PMCID: PMC3758685  PMID: 22544928
15.  An RNA Profile Identifies Two Subsets of Multiple Sclerosis Patients Differing in Disease Activity 
Science translational medicine  2012;4(153):153ra131.
The multiple sclerosis (MS) patient population is highly heterogeneous in terms of disease course and treatment response. We used a transcriptional profile generated from peripheral blood mononuclear cells to define the structure of an MS patient population. Two subsets of MS subjects (MSA and MSB) were found among 141 untreated subjects. We replicated this structure in two additional groups of MS subjects treated with one of the two first-line disease-modifying treatments in MS: glatiramer acetate (GA) (n = 94) and interferon-β (IFN-β) (n = 128). One of the two subsets of subjects (MSA) was distinguished by higher expression of molecules involved in lymphocyte signaling pathways. Further, subjects in this MSA subset were more likely to have a new inflammatory event while on treatment with either GA or IFN-β (P = 0.0077). We thus report a transcriptional signature that differentiates subjects with MS into two classes with different levels of disease activity.
PMCID: PMC3753678  PMID: 23019656
16.  Sodium Chloride Drives Autoimmune Disease by the Induction of Pathogenic Th17 Cells 
Nature  2013;496(7446):518-522.
There has been a marked increase in the incidence of autoimmune diseases in the last half-century. While the underlying genetic basis of this class of diseases has recently been elucidated implicating predominantly immune response genes1, changes in environmental factors must ultimately be driving this increase. The newly identified population of interleukin (IL)-17 producing CD4+ helper T cells (Th17 cells) plays a pivotal role in autoimmune diseases2. Pathogenic IL-23 dependent Th17 cells have been shown to be critical for the development of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), an animal model for multiple sclerosis (MS), and genetic risk factors associated with MS are related to the IL23/Th17 pathway1, 2. However, little is known regarding the environmental factors that directly influence Th17 cells. Here we show that increased salt (sodium chloride; NaCl) concentrations found locally under physiological conditions in vivo dramatically boost the induction of murine and human Th17 cells. High-salt conditions activate the p38/MAPK pathway involving the tonicity-responsive enhancer binding protein (TonEBP/NFAT5) and the serum/glucocorticoid-regulated kinase 1 (SGK1) during cytokine-induced Th17 polarization. Gene silencing or chemical inhibition of p38/MAPK, NFAT5 or SGK1 abrogates the high-salt induced Th17 cell development. The Th17 cells generated under high-salt display a highly pathogenic and stable phenotype characterized by the up-regulation of the pro-inflammatory cytokines GM-CSF, TNFα and IL-2. Moreover, mice fed with a high-salt diet develop a more severe form of EAE, in line with augmented central nervous system infiltrating and peripherally induced antigen specific Th17 cells. Thus, increased dietary salt intake might represent an environmental risk factor for the development of autoimmune diseases through the induction of pathogenic Th17 cells.
PMCID: PMC3746493  PMID: 23467095
17.  RNAi screen in primary human T cells reveals Flt3 as a modulator of IL-10 levels1 
Functional studies of human primary immune cells have been hampered by the lack of tools to silence gene functions. Here we report the application of a lentiviral RNAi library in primary human T cells. Using a subgenomic shRNA library targeting ~1,000 signaling genes, we identified novel genes that control the levels of IL-10 produced. IL-10 is a potent anti-inflammatory cytokine secreted by several cell types, including Tr1 cells, a subset of Tregs that exert their suppressive activity through IL-10 secretion. FLT3, a known hematopoeitic growth factor, was found to be a negative regulator of IL-10 levels in activated T cells. This was based on several observations. First, FLT3 and its ligand, FL, were both induced by T cell activation. Second, silencing of FLT3 led to increased IL-10 levels while addition of FL suppressed IL-10 secretion and increased FLT3 surface levels. Third, engagement of CD46, a known inducer of Tr1 regulatory T cells, upregulated surface FLT3 and secreted FL, which then inhibited IL-10 production in T cells. Hence, FL and FLT3 form a novel regulatory feedback loop that limits IL-10 production in T cells. Our results identified Flt3 as a new regulator of T cell function and offer a strategy to genetically dissect specific pathways in T cells.
PMCID: PMC3746748  PMID: 20018615
18.  Microbial Reprogramming Inhibits Western Diet-Associated Obesity 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(7):e68596.
A recent epidemiological study showed that eating ‘fast food’ items such as potato chips increased likelihood of obesity, whereas eating yogurt prevented age-associated weight gain in humans. It was demonstrated previously in animal models of obesity that the immune system plays a critical role in this process. Here we examined human subjects and mouse models consuming Westernized ‘fast food’ diet, and found CD4+ T helper (Th)17-biased immunity and changes in microbial communities and abdominal fat with obesity after eating the Western chow. In striking contrast, eating probiotic yogurt together with Western chow inhibited age-associated weight gain. We went on to test whether a bacteria found in yogurt may serve to lessen fat pathology by using purified Lactobacillus reuteri ATCC 6475 in drinking water. Surprisingly, we discovered that oral L. reuteri therapy alone was sufficient to change the pro-inflammatory immune cell profile and prevent abdominal fat pathology and age-associated weight gain in mice regardless of their baseline diet. These beneficial microbe effects were transferable into naïve recipient animals by purified CD4+ T cells alone. Specifically, bacterial effects depended upon active immune tolerance by induction of Foxp3+ regulatory T cells (Treg) and interleukin (Il)-10, without significantly changing the gut microbial ecology or reducing ad libitum caloric intake. Our finding that microbial targeting restored CD4+ T cell balance and yielded significantly leaner animals regardless of their dietary ‘fast food’ indiscretions suggests population-based approaches for weight management and enhancing public health in industrialized societies.
PMCID: PMC3707834  PMID: 23874682
19.  Identification of T helper type 1–like, Foxp3+ regulatory T cells in human autoimmune disease 
Nature medicine  2011;17(6):673-675.
CD4+CD25highCD127low/− forkhead box p3 (Foxp3)+ regulatory T cells (Treg cells) possess functional plasticity. Here we describe a higher frequency of T helper type 1 (TH1)-like, interferon-γ (IFN-γ)-secreting Foxp3+ T cells in untreated subjects with relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) as compared to healthy control individuals. In subjects treated with IFN-β, the frequency of IFN-γ+Foxp3+ T cells is similar to that in healthy control subjects. In vitro, human Treg cells from healthy subjects acquire a TH1-like phenotype when cultured in the presence of interleukin-12 (IL-12). TH1-like Treg cells show reduced suppressive activity in vitro, which can partially be reversed by IFN-γ–specific antibodies or by removal of IL-12.
PMCID: PMC3675886  PMID: 21540856
20.  Specific peripheral B cell tolerance defects in patients with multiple sclerosis 
The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2013;123(6):2737-2741.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a genetically mediated autoimmune disease of the central nervous system. B cells have recently emerged as major contributors to disease pathogenesis, but the mechanisms responsible for the loss of B cell tolerance in patients with MS are largely unknown. In healthy individuals, developing autoreactive B cells are removed from the repertoire at 2 tolerance checkpoints during early B cell development. Both of these central and peripheral B cell tolerance checkpoints are defective in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and type 1 diabetes (T1D). Here, we found that only the peripheral, but not the central, B cell tolerance checkpoint is defective in patients with MS. We show that this specific defect is accompanied by increased activation and homeostatic proliferation of mature naive B cells. Interestingly, all of these MS features parallel defects observed in FOXP3-deficient IPEX patients, who harbor nonfunctional Tregs. We demonstrate that in contrast to patients with RA or T1D, bone marrow central B cell selection in MS appears normal in most patients. In contrast, patients with MS suffer from a specific peripheral B cell tolerance defect that is potentially attributable to impaired Treg function and that leads to the accumulation of autoreactive B cell clones in their blood.
PMCID: PMC3668812  PMID: 23676463
21.  The TIGIT/CD226 axis regulates human T cell function 
TIGIT is a newly identified receptor expressed on T cells that binds to CD155 on the dendritic cell surface driving them to a more tolerogenic phenotype. Given that TIGIT contains an ITIM motif in its intracellular domain and considering the potential importance of the TIGIT/CD226 pathway in human autoimmune disease, we investigated the specific role of TIGIT in human CD4+ T cells. Using an agonistic anti-TIGIT mAb, we demonstrate a direct inhibitory effect on T cell proliferation with a decrease in expression of T-bet, GATA3, IRF4 and RORc with inhibition of cytokine production, predominately IFNγ. Knockdown of TIGIT expression by shRNA resulted in an increase of both T-bet and IFNγ mRNA and protein expression with concomitant decrease in IL-10 expression. Increases in IFNγ with TIGIT knockdown could be overcome by blocking CD226 signaling indicating that TIGIT exerts immunosuppressive effects by competing with CD226 for the same CD155 ligand. These data demonstrate that TIGIT can inhibit T cell functions by competing with CD226 and can also directly inhibit T cells in a T cell intrinsic manner. Our results provide evidence for a novel role of this alternative co-stimulatory pathway in regulating human T cell responses associated with autoimmune disease.
PMCID: PMC3324669  PMID: 22427644
22.  Induction and molecular signature of pathogenic TH17 cells 
Nature immunology  2012;13(10):991-999.
Interleukin 17 (IL-17)-producing TH17 cells are often present at the sites of tissue inflammation in autoimmune diseases, which has lead to the conclusion that TH17 are main drivers of autoimmune tissue injury. However, not all TH17 cells are pathogenic, in fact TH17 generated with TGF-β1 and IL-6 produce IL-17 but do not readily induce autoimmune disease without further exposure to IL-23. Here we show that TGF-β3, produced by developing TH17 cells, is dependent on IL-23, which together with IL-6 induces highly pathogenic TH17 cells. Moreover, TGF-β3-induced TH17 cells are functionally and molecularly distinct from TGF-β1-induced TH17 cells and possess a molecular signature that defines pathogenic effector TH17 cells in autoimmune disease.
PMCID: PMC3459594  PMID: 22961052
23.  Models of Somatic Hypermutation Targeting and Substitution Based on Synonymous Mutations from High-Throughput Immunoglobulin Sequencing Data 
Analyses of somatic hypermutation (SHM) patterns in B cell immunoglobulin (Ig) sequences contribute to our basic understanding of adaptive immunity, and have broad applications not only for understanding the immune response to pathogens, but also to determining the role of SHM in autoimmunity and B cell cancers. Although stochastic, SHM displays intrinsic biases that can confound statistical analysis, especially when combined with the particular codon usage and base composition in Ig sequences. Analysis of B cell clonal expansion, diversification, and selection processes thus critically depends on an accurate background model for SHM micro-sequence targeting (i.e., hot/cold-spots) and nucleotide substitution. Existing models are based on small numbers of sequences/mutations, in part because they depend on data from non-coding regions or non-functional sequences to remove the confounding influences of selection. Here, we combine high-throughput Ig sequencing with new computational analysis methods to produce improved models of SHM targeting and substitution that are based only on synonymous mutations, and are thus independent of selection. The resulting “S5F” models are based on 806,860 Synonymous mutations in 5-mer motifs from 1,145,182 Functional sequences and account for dependencies on the adjacent four nucleotides (two bases upstream and downstream of the mutation). The estimated profiles can explain almost half of the variance in observed mutation patterns, and clearly show that both mutation targeting and substitution are significantly influenced by neighboring bases. While mutability and substitution profiles were highly conserved across individuals, the variability across motifs was found to be much larger than previously estimated. The model and method source code are made available at
PMCID: PMC3828525  PMID: 24298272
immunoglobulin; B cell; somatic hypermutation; mutability; substitution; targeting; AID; affinity maturation
24.  Multiple sclerosis 
The Journal of Clinical Investigation  2012;122(4):1180-1188.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a multifocal demyelinating disease with progressive neurodegeneration caused by an autoimmune response to self-antigens in a genetically susceptible individual. While the formation and persistence of meningeal lymphoid follicles suggest persistence of antigens to drive the continuing inflammatory and humoral response, the identity of an antigen or infectious agent leading to the oligoclonal expansion of B and T cells is unknown. In this review we examine new paradigms for understanding the immunopathology of MS, present recent data defining the common genetic variants underlying disease susceptibility, and explore how improved understanding of immune pathway disruption can inform MS prognosis and treatment decisions.
PMCID: PMC3314452  PMID: 22466660
25.  Interrogating the complex role of chromosome 16p13.13 in multiple sclerosis susceptibility: independent genetic signals in the CIITA–CLEC16A–SOCS1 gene complex 
Human Molecular Genetics  2011;20(17):3517-3524.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a neurodegenerative, autoimmune disease of the central nervous system, and numerous studies have shown that MS has a strong genetic component. Independent studies to identify MS-associated genes have often indicated multiple signals in physically close genomic regions, although by their proximity it is not always clear if these data indicate redundant or truly independent genetic signals. Recently, three MS study samples were genotyped in parallel using an Illumina Custom BeadChip. These revealed multiple significantly associated single-nucleotide polymorphisms within a 600 kb stretch on chromosome 16p13. Here we present a detailed analysis of variants in this region that clarifies the independent nature of these signals. The linkage disequilibrium patterns in the region and logistic regression analysis of the associations suggest that this region likely harbors three independent MS disease loci. Further, we examined cis-expression QTLs, histone modifications and CCCTC-binding factor (CTCF) binding data in the region. We also tested for correlated expression of the genes from the region using whole-genome expression array data from lymphoblastoid cell lines. Three of the genes show expression correlations across loci. Furthermore, in the GM12878 lymphoblastoid cell line, these three genes are in a continuous region devoid of H3K27 methylation, suggesting an open chromatin configuration. This region likely only contributes minimal risk to MS; however, investigation of this region will undoubtedly provide insight into the functional mechanisms of these genes. These data highlight the importance of taking a closer look at the expression and function of chromosome 16p13 in the pathogenesis of MS.
PMCID: PMC3153306  PMID: 21653641

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