Atherosclerosis is a chronic inflammatory disease promoted by hyperlipidemia. Several studies support FOXP3-positive regulatory T cells (Tregs) as inhibitors of atherosclerosis; however, the mechanism underlying this protection remains elusive. To define the role of FOXP3-expressing Tregs in atherosclerosis, we used the DEREG mouse, which expresses the diphtheria toxin (DT) receptor under control of the Treg-specific Foxp3 promoter, allowing for specific ablation of FOXP3+ Tregs. Lethally irradiated, atherosclerosis-prone, low-density lipoprotein receptor–deficient (Ldlr–/–) mice received DEREG bone marrow and were injected with DT to eliminate FOXP3+ Tregs. Depletion of Tregs caused a 2.1-fold increase in atherosclerosis without a concomitant increase in vascular inflammation. These mice also exhibited a 1.7-fold increase in plasma cholesterol and an atherogenic lipoprotein profile with increased levels of VLDL. Clearance of VLDL and chylomicron remnants was hampered, leading to accumulation of cholesterol-rich particles in the circulation. Functional and protein analyses complemented by gene expression array identified reduced protein expression of sortilin-1 in liver and increased plasma enzyme activity of lipoprotein lipase, hepatic lipase, and phospholipid transfer protein as mediators of the altered lipid phenotype. These results demonstrate that FOXP3+ Tregs inhibit atherosclerosis by modulating lipoprotein metabolism.


Roland Klingenberg, Norbert Gerdes, Robert M. Badeau, Anton Gisterå, Daniela Strodthoff, Daniel F.J. Ketelhuth, Anna M. Lundberg, Mats Rudling, Stefan K. Nilsson, Gunilla Olivecrona, Stefan Zoller, Christine Lohmann, Thomas F. Lüscher, Matti Jauhiainen, Tim Sparwasser, Göran K. Hansson


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