Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a chronic inflammatory disorder in the gastrointestinal tract (the Gut). Available IBD therapies can cause severe side effects, and many patients either fail to respond to the treatment or lose therapeutic effects with time. Hence, IBD therapy is still an unmet medical need. We recently proposed to enhance the induction of regulatory T cells (Tregs) expressing gut-homing molecules (gut-homing Tregs) to control chronic gut inflammation in IBD patients without compromising systemic immunity. We have shown that dendritic cells (DCs), engineered to de novo synthesize high concentrations of the active vitamin D (1,25-dihydroxy vitamin D or 1,25[OH]2D) and retinoic acid, increase the induction of gut-homing Tregs phenotypically and functionally in healthy mice and the mice induced for experimental colitis. This current study investigated whether the engineered DCs worked in humans. In addition, we also asked how zinc impacts the function of our engineered DCs because zinc is a biologically essential mineral widely included in daily supplements and has also been shown to tolerize DCs. Our data showed that the engineered DCs, derived from healthy control subjects and IBD patients, stimulated autologous naïve CD4+ T cells to express both regulatory and gut-homing molecules (gut-homing Tregs). In addition, the stimulated CD4+ T cells suppressed the proliferation of autologous effector T cells. Moreover, the addition of zinc enhanced the ability of the engineered human DCs to augment the induction of autologous gut-homing Tregs. Hence, our findings indicate zinc-treated engineered DCs are a promising novel IBD therapy.

This study was partially supported by the AAI Careers in Immunology Fellowship; the US Army Medical Research and Materiel Command grant (W81XWH-15-0240); and the GI Foundation of Loma Linda University Innovation grant (RIG-GI 681207-2967).

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