VAF347 is a low-molecular-weight compound, which activates the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR). Herein, we report that oral administration of a water-soluble derivative of VAF347 (VAG539) promotes long-term graft acceptance and active tolerance in Balb/c mice that receive a transplant of MHC-mismatched pancreatic islet allografts. In vivo VAG539 treatment results in increased frequency of splenic CD4(+) T cells expressing CD25 and Foxp3, markers associated with regulatory T (Tr) cells, and in vitro VAF347 treatment of splenic CD4+ T cells improved CD4(+)CD25(+)Foxp3(+) T-cell survival. Interestingly, transfer of CD11c(+) dendritic cells (DCs), but not of CD4+ T or CD19(+) B cells, from VAG539-treated long-term tolerant hosts into mice that recently underwent transplantation resulted in donor (C57BI/6)-specific graft acceptance and in a significantly higher frequency of splenic CD4(+)CD25(+)Foxp3(+) Tr cells. Furthermore, the transfer of CD4(+)CD25(+) T cells from these mice into mice that recently underwent transplantation promoted graft acceptance. Similarly, cell therapy with in vitro VAF347-treated bone marrow-derived mature DCs prevented islet graft rejection, and reduced OVA-specific T-cell responses in OVA-immunized mice. Collectively, our data indicate that AhR activation induces islet allograft-specific tolerance through direct as well as DC-mediated effects on Tr-cell survival and function.
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