Rapamycin rescues loss of function in blood-brain barrier–interacting Tregs

Paulien Baeten, Ibrahim Hamad, Cindy Hoeks, Michael Hiltensperger, Bart Van Wijmeersch, Veronica Popescu, Lilian Aly, Veerle Somers, Thomas Korn, Markus Kleinewietfeld, Niels Hellings, Bieke Broux

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In autoimmunity, FOXP3+ Tregs skew toward a proinflammatory, nonsuppressive phenotype and are, therefore, unable to control the exaggerated autoimmune response. This largely affects the success of autologous Treg therapy, which is currently under investigation for autoimmune diseases, including multiple sclerosis (MS). There is a need to ensure in vivo Treg stability before successful application of Treg therapy. Using genetic fate-mapping mice, we demonstrate that inflammatory, cytokine-expressing exFOXP3 T cells accumulate in the CNS during experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis. In a human in vitro model, we discovered that interaction with inflamed blood-brain barrier endothelial cells (BBB-ECs) induces loss of function by Tregs. Transcriptome and cytokine analysis revealed that in vitro migrated Tregs have disrupted regenerative potential and a proinflammatory Th1/17 signature, and they upregulate the mTORC1 signaling pathway. In vitro treatment of migrated human Tregs with the clinically approved mTORC1 inhibitor rapamycin restored suppression. Finally, flow cytometric analysis indicated an enrichment of inflammatory, less-suppressive CD49d+ Tregs in the cerebrospinal fluid of people with MS. In summary, interaction with BBB-ECs is sufficient to affect Treg function, and transmigration triggers an additive proinflammatory phenotype switch. These insights help improve the efficacy of autologous Treg therapy of MS.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere167457
JournalJCI Insight
Issue number7
StatePublished - 2024
Externally publishedYes


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