Glycodelin-A As The Regulator Of CD8+ T-Lymphocyte Activity : Implications In Primate Pregnancy
The ability of our immune system to mount a response against non-self-antigens legitimates the semi-allogenic fetus as a target for maternal immune attack. Yet, in a normal pregnancy the fetus stays well protected due to the concerted action of several diverse mechanisms which either suppress the fetal allogenicity or spatio-temporally inhibit maternal immune cells’ growth and functions. One such factor which aids in the establishment, progression and maintenance of pregnancy is the 28 kDa dimeric sialylated glycoprotein Glycodelin-A (GdA). Synthesized by the endometrium and decidua, this protein has myriad functions, the most important being that of immunosuppression. GdA is inhibitory to all hematopoietic cells and also induces programmed cell death in activated T cells and monocytes via the intrinsic mitochondrial pathway. In the Introductory chapter of this thesis, details about GdA and the other isoforms of the glycodelin family of proteins have been presented which highlight the involvement of glycodelins in primate pregnancy, with emphasis on GdA and its pleiotropic functions associated with reproduction in females. Activated T-lymphocytes against paternal antigens are found in the uterine compartment and in the maternal circulation throughout pregnancy. Activated CD8+ T-lymphocytes have been reported to pre-dominate the uterine T-lymphocyte population during pregnancy and unlike the CD4+ T cells, are retained until term. Studies show that activated CD8+ T-lymphocytes are necessary for the establishment and progression of early pregnancy. However, how these lymphocytes harbouring cytotoxic activity are regulated at the later stages of pregnancy is poorly defined. We attempted to uncover a possible mechanism of regulation of CTL (cytotoxic T lymphocyte) activity (if any) during primate pregnancy by GdA. In the absence of established human CD8+ T cell lines, we first standardized the generation of CTLs in-vitro from hPBMCs (human peripheral blood mononuclear cells) by alloactivating them with an ovarian carcinoma cell line OVCAR-3 utilized as a mimic of an allograft. The details of the rationale behind using this method for generating CTLs and the alloactivation methodology have been put together in the Chapter 1 of this thesis. The activation of hPBMCs was confirmed by the surface expression of an early activation marker CD69 and tritiated thymidine incorporation. Differentiation of CD8+ T cells into effector cells was confirmed by the upregulation of perforin and granzyme transcripts by real time RT-PCR analysis. Target-cell specific cytolytic activity of the CTLs was assessed by using a cytotoxicity measurement assay- JAM test, details of which also form a part of chapter 1. Having generated effective CTLs in vitro, we tested the effect of GdA on CTL activity. Our findings, on the effect of GdA on CTLs have also been discussed in the Chapter 1. We observed that the cytolytic activity of CTLs was significantly reduced by GdA treatment albeit at a dose three to four times higher than that required for inhibiting CD8+ T cell proliferation, implying that a mechanism of temporal regulation of CTL activity operated at the feto-maternal interface, thereby contributing to the establishment and progression of pregnancy. Interestingly, in our quest to uncover the mechanism of inhibition of CTL activity by GdA, we found that the inhibition of proliferation was comparable in both CD4+ and CD8+ T-lymphocytes at all dosages of GdA, but unlike CD4 + T cells CD8 + T cells were resistant to GdA-induced apoptosis even at high dosage of GdA. Hence we could rule out that the loss of CTL activity upon GdA treatment was due to CD8+ T cell death. Further, we assessed the functional competence of alloactivated CTLs by quantitating the mRNA transcripts of key cytolytic molecules; perforin and granzyme B, in GdA treated alloactivated hPBMCs and found that there was a significant reduction in the mRNA of these cytolytic molecules. Additionally, we also found that GdA treated CD8+ T cells exhibited impaired release of the cytolytic molecules by the process of degranulation, measured by the surface exposure of LAMPs (Lysosome associated membrane proteins) on the surface of cells by flow cytometry and as seen by the retention of perforin protein in them assessed by intracellular staining and flow cytometry. Intrigued by the observations, we probed for the regulators of perforin and granzymes in CTLs. EOMES (Eomesodermin) and T- Bet are well known transcription factors which control the differentiation of CD8+ T cells into effector and memory cell CD8+ T cell type. Interestingly we found that the expression of EOMES was significantly reduced in activated GdA treated hPBMCs, both at the transcriptional and translational level, however T-Bet did not show any variation in expression upon GdA treatment. All the above findings have been compiled in Chapter 2 along with our studies on the possibility of GdA to induce a tolerogenic phenotype in T cells. We found there was no difference in the mRNA level and surface expression of CD103 and CD28 in alloactivated PBMCs, while FOXP3 mRNA did not show any variation upon GdA treatment, indicating that GdA does not induce a tolerogenic phenotype in T-lymphocytes, further confirming our data that the decreased cytolytic activity of CTLs upon GdA treatment was not due to tolerance but due to impaired function Interestingly, IL-2/IL-2R signaling is known to directly regulate perforin and granzyme expression as well as it plays a role in the expression of T-Bet and EOMES. Therefore, as a read out of IL-2 signaling we checked for the surface expression of the high affinity IL-2R subunit, CD25. As expected, CD25 expression was more pronounced in CD4+ T cells and consistent with published reports in literature that GdA suppresses IL-2 synthesis, we also observed a significant reduction in the CD25bright population in both the T cell subsets (CD4+ and CD8+) upon GdA treatment (addressed in Chapter 3). This finding supports a mechanism of action of GdA, wherein the cytolytic activity of CTLs is compromised by the downregulation of EOMES, triggered by the low IL-2 levels. This translates to aberrant synthesis of key cytolytic molecules perforin and granzyme B, leading to low efficiency CTLs, which are further disabled by defective degranulation machinery induced by GdA. We did not look into the mechanistic aspects of how GdA suppresses degranulation, which can be addressed later as a part of another study. Building up on our observations, and taking cues from existing literature, that IL-2 regulates the expression of pro and anti-apoptotic protein levels within activated cells, we looked at the expression profile of Bcl-2 (anti-apoptotic) and Bax (pro-apoptotic) in activated PBMCs upon GdA treatment. There was a significant reduction in the total mRNA and protein level of Bcl-2, while a very significant increase in Bax mRNA and protein was observed. Chapter 3 of the thesis also presents this data and explains a plausible mechanism of the inhibitory effect of GdA on T-lymphocytes. In Chapter 2, we have also addressed the probable reasons for the differences in the responses of CD4+ and CD8+ T-lymphocytes to GdA. Interestingly, surface glycan profile of CD4+ and CD8+ T-lymphocytes upon activation and the surface expression of the most probable receptor for GdA i.e. CD7 was comparable in both the T cell subsets, indicating that possibly the downstream signaling events leading to GdA-induced apoptosis and not the surface binding of GdA may vary in CD4+ and CD8+ T-lymphocytes, due to which we observed a difference in the extent of apoptosis induced in these cell types by GdA although the inhibition of proliferation in both the subsets was comparable. In summary, this study is the first to provide evidence for a possible mechanism of temporal regulation of CTL activity at the feto-maternal interface, where activated CD8+ T cells are abundantly present. We can say with much confidence that binding of GdA to T-lymphocytes causes sub-optimal IL-2 signaling which translates into reduced expression of EOMES and hence downregulation of perforin and granzyme B, leading to impaired CTL activity in CD8+ T-lymphocytes, which is further weakened by the impaired release of the cytolytic molecules from them. Insufficient IL-2 signaling in the presence of GdA can also be a cause of inhibition of proliferation in T-lymphocytes, while the resulting decrease in anti-apoptotic protein Bcl-2 and increase in pro-apoptotic protein Bax seem to contribute to the induction of apoptosis in CD4+ T cell. It will be interesting to explore the mediators involved in the IL-2 signaling pathway that are differentially regulated in CD4+ and CD8+ T cells which confer resistance in CD8+ T cells to GdA-induced apoptosis and also the mechanism by which GdA regulates the degranulation of cytolytic vesicles in CTLs needs to be worked out.
- Biochemistry (BC) 
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