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Studies to identify novel immune-regulatory functions of active vitamin D (1,25(OH)2D3) in human CD4+ T cells revealed that 1,25(OH)2D3 potently induced expression of the gene SERPINA1, encoding the anti-protease α-1-antitrypsin. We confirmed α-1-antitrypsin protein expression by 1,25(OH)2D3-treated CD4+ T cells, but not in CD8+ T cells or monocytes. α-1-Antitrypsin promotes anti-inflammatory IL-10 synthesis in other immune cell populations. We therefore investigated its immune-regulatory effects in CD4+ T cells. Plasma-derived α-1-antitrypsin drove IL-10 synthesis by CD4+ T cells, which was not dependent on anti-protease activity, but appeared to require a serum-binding factor, since this could not be achieved with recombinant protein. α-1-Antitrypsin is reported to bind complement components, which regulate T cell function. A role for this interaction was therefore probed. Plasma-derived, but not recombinant α-1-antitrypsin contained C3a. Surface Plasmon Resonance and Microscale Thermophoresis demonstrated α-1-antitrypsin binding to C3a. Addition of C3a to CD4+ T cells cultured with recombinant α-1-antitrypsin restored induction of IL-10, whereas neutralisation of C3a abrogated IL-10 induced by plasma-derived α-1-antitrypsin. To interrogate an endogenous role for the α-1-antitrypsin-C3a axis in 1,25(OH)2D3-driven CD4+ T cell IL-10 synthesis, we treated cells from healthy or α-1-antitrypsin-deficient individuals (which transcribe SERPINA1 but do not secrete protein) with 1,25(OH)2D3. A significant correlation was identified between SERPINA1 and IL10 gene expression in healthy donor CD4+ T cells, which was absent in cells from α-1-antitrypsin-deficient individuals. Therefore, α-1-antitrypsin is required for 1,25(OH)2D3-induced IL-10 expression in CD4+ T cells, interacting with C3a to drive IL-10 expression.

Original publication




Journal article


The Journal of steroid biochemistry and molecular biology

Publication Date





1 - 9


MRC and Asthma UK Centre for Allergic Mechanisms of Asthma, King's College London, Guy's Hospital, London, SE1 9RT, United Kingdom.


CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes, Cells, Cultured, Humans, Calcitriol, Vitamins, alpha 1-Antitrypsin, Interleukin-10, Immunologic Factors