Regulatory T (T reg) cells are often found in human tumors; however, their functional characteristics have been difficult to evaluate due to low cell numbers and the inability to adequately distinguish between activated and T reg cell populations. Using a novel approach, we examined the intracellular cytokine production capacity of tumor-infiltrating T cells in the single-cell suspensions of enzymatically digested tumors to differentiate T reg cells from effector T cells. Similar to T reg cells in the peripheral blood of healthy individuals, tumor-infiltrating FOXP3+CD4 T cells, unlike FOXP3 - T cells, were unable to produce IL-2 and IFN-γ upon ex vivo stimulation, indicating that FOXP3 expression is a valid biological marker for human T reg cells even in the tumor microen-vironment. Accordingly, we enumerated FOXP3+CD4 T reg cells in intratumoral and peritumoral sections of metastatic melanoma tumors and found a significant increase in proportion of FOXP3+CD4 T reg cells in the intratumoral compared with peritumoral areas. Moreover, their frequencies were 3- to 5-fold higher in tumors than in peripheral blood from the same patients or healthy donors, respectively. These findings demonstrate that the tumor-infiltrating CD4 T reg cell population is accurately depicted by FOXP3 expression, they selectively accumulate in tumors, and their frequency in peripheral blood does not properly reflect tumor microenvironment.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cell Biology