α7 nAChRs expressed on immune cells regulate antigen-specific antibody and proinflammatory cytokine production. Using spleen cells from ovalbumin (OVA)-specific T cell receptor transgenic DO11.10 mice and the α7 nAChR agonist GTS-21, investigation of (1) antigen processing-dependent and (2) -independent, antigen presenting cell (APC)-dependent, naïve CD4+ T cell differentiation, as well as (3) non-specific APC-independent, anti-CD3/CD28 mAbs-induced CD4+ T cell differentiation, revealed the differential roles of α7 nAChRs expressed on T cells and APCs in the regulation of CD4+ T cell differentiation. GTS-21 suppressed OVA-induced antigen processing- and APC-dependent differentiation into regulatory T cells (Tregs) and effector T cells (Th1, Th2 and Th17) without affecting OVA uptake or cell viability. By contrast, GTS-21 upregulated OVA peptide-induced antigen processing-independent T cell differentiation into all lineages. During anti-CD3/CD28 mAbs-induced T cell differentiation in the presence of polarizing cytokines, GTS-21 promoted wild-type T cell differentiation into all lineages, but did not affect α7 nAChR-deficient T cell differentiation. These results demonstrate (1) that α7 nAChRs on APCs downregulate T cell differentiation by inhibiting antigen processing and thereby interfering with antigen presentation; and (2) that α7 nAChRs on T cells upregulate differentiation into Tregs and effector T cells. Thus, the divergent roles of α7 nAChRs on APCs and T cells likely regulate the intensity of immune responses. These findings suggest the possibility of using α7 nAChR agonists to harvest greater numbers of Tregs and Th1 and Th2 cells for adoptive immune therapies for treatment of autoimmune diseases and cancers.
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