Interleukin-2 (IL-2) is historically known as a T-cell growth factor. Accumulating evidence from knockout mice suggests that IL-2 is crucial for the homeostasis and function of CD4+CD25+ regulatory T cells in vivo. However, the impact of administered IL-2 in an immune intact host has not been studied in rodents or humans. Here, we studied the impact of IL-2 administration on the frequency and function of human CD4+CD25 hi T cells in immune intact patients with melanoma or renal cancer. We found that the frequency of CD4+CD25hi T cells was significantly increased after IL-2 treatment, and these cells expressed phenotypic markers associated with regulatory T cells. In addition, both transcript and protein levels of Foxp3, a transcription factor exclusively expressed on regulatory T cells, were consistently increased in CD4 T cells following IL-2 treatment. Functional analysis of the increased number of CD4+CD25hi T cells revealed that this population exhibited potent suppressive activity in vitro. Collectively, our results demonstrate that administration of high-dose IL-2 increased the frequency of circulating CD4+CD25hi Foxp3+ regulatory T cells. Our findings suggest that selective inhibition of IL-2-mediated enhancement of regulatory T cells may improve the therapeutic effectiveness of IL-2 administration.
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