Basal gene expression by lung CD4+ T cells in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease identifies independent molecular correlates of airflow obstruction and emphysema extent.

PLoS One 2014 7;9(5):e96421. Epub 2014 May 7.

Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine Division, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Michigan Health System, Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States of America; Graduate Program in Immunology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States of America; Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine Section, Medicine Service, VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System, Ann Arbor, Michigan, United States of America.

Unlabelled: Lung CD4+ T cells accumulate as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) progresses, but their role in pathogenesis remains controversial. To address this controversy, we studied lung tissue from 53 subjects undergoing clinically-indicated resections, lung volume reduction, or transplant. Viable single-cell suspensions were analyzed by flow cytometry or underwent CD4+ T cell isolation, followed either by stimulation with anti-CD3 and cytokine/chemokine measurement, or by real-time PCR analysis. In lung CD4+ T cells of most COPD subjects, relative to lung CD4+ T cells in smokers with normal spirometry: (a) stimulation induced minimal IFN-γ or other inflammatory mediators, but many subjects produced more CCL2; (b) the T effector memory subset was less uniformly predominant, without correlation with decreased IFN-γ production. Analysis of unstimulated lung CD4+ T cells of all subjects identified a molecular phenotype, mainly in COPD, characterized by markedly reduced mRNA transcripts for the transcription factors controlling TH1, TH2, TH17 and FOXP3+ T regulatory subsets and their signature cytokines. This mRNA-defined CD4+ T cell phenotype did not result from global inability to elaborate mRNA; increased transcripts for inhibitory CD28 family members or markers of anergy; or reduced telomerase length. As a group, these subjects had significantly worse spirometry, but not DLCO, relative to subjects whose lung CD4+ T cells expressed a variety of transcripts. Analysis of mRNA transcripts of unstimulated lung CD4+ T cell among all subjects identified two distinct molecular correlates of classical COPD clinical phenotypes: basal IL-10 transcripts correlated independently and inversely with emphysema extent (but not spirometry); by contrast, unstimulated IFN-γ transcripts correlated independently and inversely with reduced spirometry (but not reduced DLCO or emphysema extent). Aberrant lung CD4+ T cells polarization appears to be common in advanced COPD, but also exists in some smokers with normal spirometry, and may contribute to development and progression of specific COPD phenotypes.

Trial Registration: ClinicalTrials.gov as NCT00281229.

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http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0096421PLOS
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4013040PMC
October 2015
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