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Imbalance of placental regulatory T cell and Th17 cell population dynamics in the FIV-infected pregnant cat

Crystal E Boudreaux, Lyndon B Chumbley, Veronica L Scott, Dwayne A Wise and Karen S Coats*

Author Affiliations

Department of Biological Sciences, Mississippi State University, P.O. Box GY,, Mississippi State, MS, 39762, USA

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Virology Journal 2012, 9:88  doi:10.1186/1743-422X-9-88

Published: 4 May 2012



An appropriate balance in placental regulatory T cells (Tregs), an immunosuppressive cell population, and Th17 cells, a pro-inflammatory cell population, is essential in allowing tolerance of the semi-allogeneic fetus. TGF-β and IL-6 are cytokines that promote differentiation of Tregs and Th17 cells from a common progenitor; aberrant expression of the cytokines may perturb the balance in the two cell populations. We previously reported a pro-inflammatory placental environment with decreased levels of FoxP3, a Treg marker, and increased levels of IL-6 in the placentas of FIV-infected cats at early pregnancy. Thus, we hypothesized that FIV infection in the pregnant cat causes altered placental Treg and Th17 cell populations, possibly resulting in placental inflammation.


We examined the effect of FIV infection on Treg and Th17 populations in placentas at early pregnancy using quantitative confocal microscopy to measure FoxP3 or RORγ, a Th17 marker, and qPCR to quantify expression of the key cytokines TGF-β and IL-6.


FoxP3 and RORγ were positively correlated in FIV-infected placentas at early pregnancy, but not placentas from normal cats, indicating virus-induced alteration in the balance of these cell populations. In control cats the expression of IL-6 and RORγ was positively correlated as predicted, but this relationship was disrupted in infected animals. TGF-β was reduced in infected queens, an occurrence that could dysregulate both Treg and Th17 cell populations. Co-expression analyses revealed a highly significant positive correlation between IL-6 and TGF-β expression in control animals that did not occur in infected animals.


Collectively, these data point toward potential disruption in the balance of Treg and Th17 cell populations that may contribute to FIV-induced inflammation in the feline placenta.

Regulatory T cells; Th17 cells; Feline Immunodeficiency Virus; Placenta