Immunosuppressive drug therapy is required to treat patients with autoimmune disease and patients who have undergone organ transplantation. The main targets of the immunosuppressive drugs tacrolimus and mycophenolic acid (MPA; the active metabolite of mycophenolate mofetil) are T cells. It is currently unknown whether these immunosuppressive drugs have an effect on DNA methylation-an epigenetic regulator of cellular function. Here, we determined the effect of tacrolimus and MPA on DNA methylation of the gene promoter region of interferon gamma (IFNγ), a pro-inflammatory cytokine. Total T cells, naive T cells (CCR7+CD45RO-), and memory T cells (CD45RO+ and CCR7-CD45RO-) were isolated from CMV seropositive healthy controls and stimulated with α-CD3/CD28 in the presence or absence of tacrolimus or MPA. DNA methylation of the IFNγ promoter region was quantified by pyrosequencing at 4 h, days 1, 3, and 4 after stimulation. In parallel, T-cell differentiation, and IFNγ protein production were analyzed by flow cytometry at days 1 and 3 after stimulation. Our results show that MPA induced changes in IFNγ DNA methylation of naive T cells; MPA counteracted the decrease in methylation after stimulation. Tacrolimus did not affect IFNγ DNA methylation of naive T cells. In the memory T cells, both immunosuppressive drugs did not affect IFNγ DNA methylation. Differentiation of naive T cells into a central-memory-like phenotype (CD45RO+) was inhibited by both immunosuppressive drugs, while differentiation of memory T cells remained unaffected by both MPA and tacrolimus. IFNγ protein production was suppressed by tacrolimus. Our results demonstrate that MPA influenced IFNγ DNA methylation of naive T cells after stimulation of T cells, while tacrolimus had no effect. Both tacrolimus and MPA did not affect IFNγ DNA methylation of memory T cells.

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Keywords Epigenetics, In vitro, Interferon-gamma, Polyclonal activation, Remethylation, Transplantation immunology
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Journal Frontiers in Immunology
Peters, F.S, Peeters, A, Hofland, L.J, Betjes, M.G.H, Boer, K, & Baan, C.C. (2017). Interferon-gamma DNA methylation is affected by mycophenolic acid but not by tacrolimus after T-cell activation. Frontiers in Immunology, 8(JUL). doi:10.3389/fimmu.2017.00822