Cytokines and metabolic pathway-controlling enzymes regulate immune responses and have potential as powerful tools to mediate immune tolerance. Blockade of the interaction between CD40 and CD40L induces long-term cardiac allograft survival in rats through a CD8+CD45RClo Treg potentiation. Here, we have shown that the cytokine IL-34, the immunoregulatory properties of which have not been previously studied in transplantation or T cell biology, is expressed by rodent CD8+CD45RClo Tregs and human FOXP3+CD45RCloCD8+ and CD4+ Tregs. IL-34 was involved in the suppressive function of both CD8+ and CD4+ Tregs and markedly inhibited alloreactive immune responses. Additionally, in a rat cardiac allograft model, IL-34 potently induced transplant tolerance that was associated with a total inhibition of alloantibody production. Treatment of rats with IL-34 promoted allograft tolerance that was mediated by induction of CD8+ and CD4+ Tregs. Moreover, these Tregs were capable of serial tolerance induction through modulation of macrophages that migrate early to the graft. Finally, we demonstrated that human macrophages cultured in the presence of IL-34 greatly expanded CD8+ and CD4+ FOXP3+ Tregs, with a superior suppressive potential of antidonor immune responses compared with non-IL-34-expanded Tregs. In conclusion, we reveal that IL-34 serves as a suppressive Treg-specific cytokine and as a tolerogenic cytokine that efficiently inhibits alloreactive immune responses and mediates transplant tolerance.
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