Regulatory T-Cell Response to Low-Dose Interleukin-2 in Ischemic Heart Disease

Zhao, Tian X 
Sriranjan, Rouchelle 
Tuong, Zewen 
Lu, yuning 

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Atherosclerosis is a chronic inflammatory disease of the artery wall. Regulatory T cells (Tregs) limit inflammation and promote tissue healing. Low doses of interleukin (IL)-2 have the potential to increase Tregs, but its use is contraindicated in patients with ischemic heart disease.


In this randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, dose-escalation trial, we tested lowdose subcutaneous aldesleukin (recombinant IL-2), given once daily for five consecutive days. In Part A, the primary endpoint was safety, and patients with stable ischemic heart disease were randomized to placebo or to one of 5 dose groups (range 0.3-3.0 x10 6 IU/day). In Part B, patients with acute non-ST elevation myocardial infarction or unstable angina were randomized to placebo or to one of 2 dose groups (1.5 and 2.5 x10 6 IU/day). The coprimary endpoints were safety and the dose required to increase circulating Tregs by 75%. Single-cell RNA-sequencing of circulating immune cells was used to provide mechanistic assessment of the effects of aldesleukin.


Forty-four patients were randomized in the study, 26 patients in Part A and 18 patients in Part B. In total, 3 patients withdrew prior to dosing; 27 received active treatment, and 14 received placebo. The majority of adverse events were mild. Two serious adverse events occurred, with one occurring after drug administration. In Parts A and B, there was a dosedependent increase in Tregs. In Part B, the estimated dose to achieve a 75% increase in Tregs was 1.46 x10 6 IU (95%CI 1.06 – 1.87). Single-cell RNA-sequencing demonstrated the engagement of distinct pathways and cell-cell interactions.


In this phase 1b/2a study, low-dose IL-2 expanded Tregs without adverse events of major concern. Larger trials are needed to confirm safety and to further evaluate efficacy of lowdose IL-2 as an anti-inflammatory therapy in patients with ischemic heart disease. (Funded by the Medical Research Council and the British Heart Foundation; number, NCT03113773)

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New England Journal of Medicine Evidence
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Massachusetts Medical Society
British Heart Foundation (CH/10/001/27642)
Medical Research Council (MR/N028015/1)
Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EP/N014588/1)
EPSRC (EP/T017961/1)
British Heart Foundation (CH/10/001/27642)
Medical Research Council (MR/S035842/1)
Department of Health (via National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)) (RP-2017-08-ST2-002)