Intrinsic TNFR2 Signaling In T Regulatory Cells Provides Protection In CNS Autoimmunity
TNF is a multifunctional cytokine involved in autoimmune disease pathogenesis that exerts its effects through two distinct TNF receptors, TNFR1 and TNFR2. While TNF- and TNFR1-deficient (but not TNFR2-deficient) mice show very similar phenotypes, the significance of TNFR2 signaling in health and disease remains incompletely understood. Recent studies implicated the importance of the TNF/TNFR2 axis in T regulatory (Treg) cell functions. To definitively ascertain the significance of TNFR2 signaling, we generated and validated doubly humanized TNF/TNFR2 mice, with the option of conditional inactivation of TNFR2. These mice carry a functional human TNF-TNFR2 (hTNF-hTNFR2) signaling module and provide a useful tool for comparative evaluation of TNF-directed biologics. Conditional inactivation of TNFR2 in FoxP3+ cells in doubly humanized TNF/TNFR2 mice down-regulated the expression of Treg signature molecules (such as FoxP3, CD25, CTLA-4, and GITR) and diminished Treg suppressive function in vitro. Consequently, Treg-restricted TNFR2 deficiency led to significant exacerbation of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE), accompanied by reduced capacity to control Th17-mediated immune responses. Our findings expose the intrinsic and beneficial effects of TNFR2 signaling in Treg cells that could translate into protective functions in vivo, including treatment of autoimmunity.