Original Article

Cancer Immunology, Immunotherapy

, Volume 56, Issue 9, pp 1429-1442

First online:

Expansion and characteristics of human T regulatory type 1 cells in co-cultures simulating tumor microenvironment

  • Christoph BergmannAffiliated withResearch Pavilion at the Hillman Cancer Center, University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute
  • , Laura StraussAffiliated withResearch Pavilion at the Hillman Cancer Center, University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute
  • , Reinhard ZeidlerAffiliated withDepartment of Otorhinolaryngology, Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich
  • , Stephan LangAffiliated withDepartment of Otorhinolaryngology, University of Duisburg-Essen
  • , Theresa L. WhitesideAffiliated withResearch Pavilion at the Hillman Cancer Center, University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute Email author 

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Chronic inflammation and cancer development are associated with dysregulated immune responses and the presence of regulatory T cells (Treg). To study the role of Treg in tumor cell escape from immune surveillance, an in vitro model simulating the tumor microenvironment and promoting the induction and expansion of IL-10+ Treg type 1 (Tr1) was established.


An in vitro co-culture system (IVA) included an irradiated head and neck squamous cell carcinoma cell line, immature dendritic cells (iDC), CD4+CD25T cells and cytokines, IL-2 (10 IU/ml), IL-10 (20 IU/ml), IL-15 (20 IU/ml) ± 1 nM rapamycin. Autologous iDC and CD4+CD25 T cells were obtained from the peripheral blood of 15 normal donors. Co-cultures were expanded for 10 days. Proliferating lymphocytes were phenotyped by multi-color flow cytometry. Their suppressor function was measured in CFSE inhibition assays ± neutralizing anti-IL-10 mAb and using transwell cultures. Culture supernatants were tested for IL-4, IL-10, TGF-β and IFN-γ in ELISA.


In the IVA, low doses of IL-2, IL-10 and IL-15 promoted induction and expansion of CD3+CD4+CD25IL2Rβ+IL2Rγ+FoxP3+CTLA-4+IL-10+ cells with suppressor activity (mean suppression ± SD = 58 ± 12%). These suppressor cells produced IL-10 (mean ± SD = 535 ± 12 pg/ml) and TGF-β (mean ± SD = 512 ± 38 pg/ml), but no IL-4 or IFN-γ. Suppressor function of co-cultures correlated with the percent of expanding IL-10+ Tr1 cells (r = 0.9; P < 0.001). The addition of rapamycin enriched Tr1 cells in all co-cultures. Neutralizing anti-IL-10 mAb abolished suppressive activity. Suppression was cell-contact independent.


The tumor microenvironment promotes generation of Tr1 cells which have the phenotype distinct from that of CD4+CD25highFoxP3+ nTreg and mediate IL-10 dependent immune suppression in a cell-contact independent manner. Tr1 cells may play a critical role in cancer progression.


Tr1 cells Treg HNSCC Immune suppression Tumor escape Rapamycin