Patients who suffer from lymphedema have impaired immunity and, as a result, are at an increased risk for infections. Furthermore, previous studies have shown that lymphadenectomy impairs acquisition of adaptive immune responses and antibody production in response to foreign antigens. Although it is clear that antigen presentation in lymph nodes plays a key role in adaptive immunity, the cellular mechanisms that regulate impaired immune responses in patients with lymphedema or following lymphatic injury remain unknown. We have previously found that axillary lymph node dissection, both clinically and in a mouse model, results in a marked increase in the number of regulatory T cells in the ipsilateral limb. In this study, we focus on the role of regulatory T cells in immunosuppression and show that regulatory T-cell proliferation in tissues distal to site of lymphatic injury contributes to impaired innate and adaptive immune responses. More importantly, using Foxp3-DTR transgenic mice, we show that depletion of regulatory T cells in the setting of lymphatic injury restores these critical immune-mediated responses. These findings provide additional evidence that immune responses following lymphatic injury play a key role in mediating the pathology of lymphedema.
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