An acquired deficiency of interleukin-2 (IL-2) and related disturbances in regulatory T cell (Treg) homeostasis play an important role in the pathogenesis of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Low-dose IL-2 therapy was shown to restore Treg homeostasis in patients with active SLE and its clinical efficacy is currently evaluated in clinical trials. Lupus nephritis (LN), a challenging organ manifestation in SLE, is characterized by the infiltration of pathogenic CD4+ T cells into the inflamed kidney. However, the role of the Treg-IL-2 axis in the pathogenesis of LN and the mode of action of IL-2 therapy in the inflamed kidneys are still poorly understood. Using the (NZB × NZW) F1 mouse model of SLE we studied whether intrarenal Treg are affected by a shortage of IL-2 in comparison with lymphatic organs and whether and how intrarenal T cells and renal inflammation can be influenced by IL-2 therapy. We found that intrarenal Treg show phenotypic signs that are reminiscent of IL-2 deprivation in parallel to a progressive hyperactivity of intrarenal conventional CD4+ T cells (Tcon). Short-term IL-2 treatment of mice with active LN induced an expansion the intrarenal Treg population whereas long-term IL-2 treatment reduced the activity and proliferation of intrarenal Tcon, which was accompanied by a clinical and histological amelioration of LN. The association of these immune pathologies with IL-2 deficiency and their reversibility by IL-2 therapy provides important rationales for an IL-2-based immunotherapy of LN.
Research Areas and Centers
- Academic Focus: Center for Infection and Inflammation Research (ZIEL)