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FOXP3 is a protein
Proteins are biochemical compounds consisting of one or more polypeptides typically folded into a globular or fibrous form, facilitating a biological function. A polypeptide is a single linear polymer chain of amino acids bonded together by peptide bonds between the carboxyl and amino groups of...

 involved in immune system
Immune system
An immune system is a system of biological structures and processes within an organism that protects against disease by identifying and killing pathogens and tumor cells. It detects a wide variety of agents, from viruses to parasitic worms, and needs to distinguish them from the organism's own...

 responses. A member of the FOX protein
FOX proteins
FOX proteins are a family of transcription factors that play important roles in regulating the expression of genes involved in cell growth, proliferation, differentiation, and longevity...

 family, FOXP3 appears to function as a master regulator in the development and function of regulatory T cells.

While the precise control mechanism has not yet been established, FOX proteins belong to the forkhead/winged-helix family of transcriptional regulators and are presumed to exert control via similar DNA
Deoxyribonucleic acid is a nucleic acid that contains the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms . The DNA segments that carry this genetic information are called genes, but other DNA sequences have structural purposes, or are involved in...

 binding interactions during transcription
Transcription (genetics)
Transcription is the process of creating a complementary RNA copy of a sequence of DNA. Both RNA and DNA are nucleic acids, which use base pairs of nucleotides as a complementary language that can be converted back and forth from DNA to RNA by the action of the correct enzymes...



The human FOXP3 gene
A gene is a molecular unit of heredity of a living organism. It is a name given to some stretches of DNA and RNA that code for a type of protein or for an RNA chain that has a function in the organism. Living beings depend on genes, as they specify all proteins and functional RNA chains...

s contain 11 coding exons. Exon-intron
An intron is any nucleotide sequence within a gene that is removed by RNA splicing to generate the final mature RNA product of a gene. The term intron refers to both the DNA sequence within a gene, and the corresponding sequence in RNA transcripts. Sequences that are joined together in the final...

 boundaries are identical across the coding region
Coding region
The coding region of a gene, also known as the coding sequence or CDS, is that portion of a gene's DNA or RNA, composed of exons, that codes for protein. The region is bounded nearer the 5' end by a start codon and nearer the 3' end with a stop codon...

s of the mouse and human genes. By genomic sequence analysis, the FOXP3 gene maps to the p arm
Locus (genetics)
In the fields of genetics and genetic computation, a locus is the specific location of a gene or DNA sequence on a chromosome. A variant of the DNA sequence at a given locus is called an allele. The ordered list of loci known for a particular genome is called a genetic map...

 of the X
X chromosome
The X chromosome is one of the two sex-determining chromosomes in many animal species, including mammals and is common in both males and females. It is a part of the XY sex-determination system and X0 sex-determination system...

A chromosome is an organized structure of DNA and protein found in cells. It is a single piece of coiled DNA containing many genes, regulatory elements and other nucleotide sequences. Chromosomes also contain DNA-bound proteins, which serve to package the DNA and control its functions.Chromosomes...

 (specifically, Xp11.23).


The discovery of Foxp3 as a specific marker of natural T regulatory cells (nTregs, a lineage of T cell
T cell
T cells or T lymphocytes belong to a group of white blood cells known as lymphocytes, and play a central role in cell-mediated immunity. They can be distinguished from other lymphocytes, such as B cells and natural killer cells , by the presence of a T cell receptor on the cell surface. They are...

s) and adaptive/induced T regulatory (a/iTregs) T cells has recently led to an explosion of research in the biological properties of regulatory T cells (Tregs). In animal studies, Tregs that express Foxp3 are critical in the transfer of immune tolerance
Immune tolerance
Immune tolerance or immunological tolerance is the process by which the immune system does not attack an antigen. It can be either 'natural' or 'self tolerance', in which the body does not mount an immune response to self antigens, or 'induced tolerance', in which tolerance to external antigens can...

, especially self-tolerance, so that hopefully in the future this knowledge can be used to prevent transplant graft rejection. The induction or administration of Foxp3 positive T cells has, in animal studies, led to marked reductions in (autoimmune) disease severity in models of diabetes, multiple sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis is an inflammatory disease in which the fatty myelin sheaths around the axons of the brain and spinal cord are damaged, leading to demyelination and scarring as well as a broad spectrum of signs and symptoms...

, asthma
Asthma is the common chronic inflammatory disease of the airways characterized by variable and recurring symptoms, reversible airflow obstruction, and bronchospasm. Symptoms include wheezing, coughing, chest tightness, and shortness of breath...

, inflammatory bowel disease
Inflammatory bowel disease
In medicine, inflammatory bowel disease is a group of inflammatory conditions of the colon and small intestine. The major types of IBD are Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.-Classification:...

, thyroiditis
Thyroiditis is the inflammation of the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is located on the front of the neck below the laryngeal prominence, and makes hormones that control metabolism.-Classification:...

 and renal disease. These discoveries give hope that cellular therapies
Cell therapy
Cell therapy describes the process of introducing new cells into a tissue in order to treat a disease. Cell therapies often focus on the treatment of hereditary diseases, with or without the addition of gene therapy...

 using Foxp3 positive cells may, one day, help overcome these diseases. Unfortunately recent T cell biology investigations revealed that T cell nature is much more plastic than initially thought. Thus the regulatory T cell therapy may in fact be very risky as the T regulatory cell transferred to the patient may reverse and become another proinflammatory T cell.(see recent papers from Romagnani, Stockinger etc.). Th17 (T helper 17) cells are proinflammatory and are produced under very similar environments as a/iTregs. Th17 cells are produced under the influence of TGF-β and IL-6 (or IL-21) whereas a/iTregs are produced under the influence of solely TGF-β and as such the difference between a proinflammatory and a pro-regulatory scenario is the presence of a single interleukin (IL-6 or IL-21 is being debated by immunology laboratories as the definitive signaling molecule). It seems so far that murine studies point to IL-6 whereas human studies have shown IL-21 (Citation needed).


In human disease, alterations in numbers of regulatory T cells – and in particular those that express Foxp3 – are found in a number of disease states. For example, patients with tumors have a local relative excess of Foxp3 positive T cells which inhibits the body's ability to suppress the formation of cancerous cells. Conversely, patients with an autoimmune disease
Autoimmune disease
Autoimmune diseases arise from an overactive immune response of the body against substances and tissues normally present in the body. In other words, the body actually attacks its own cells. The immune system mistakes some part of the body as a pathogen and attacks it. This may be restricted to...

 such as systemic lupus erythematosus
Systemic lupus erythematosus
Systemic lupus erythematosus , often abbreviated to SLE or lupus, is a systemic autoimmune disease that can affect any part of the body. As occurs in other autoimmune diseases, the immune system attacks the body's cells and tissue, resulting in inflammation and tissue damage...

 (SLE) have a relative dysfunction of Foxp3 positive cells. The Foxp3 gene is also mutated in the X-linked
Sex linkage
Sex linkage is the phenotypic expression of an allele related to the chromosomal sex of the individual. This mode of inheritance is in contrast to the inheritance of traits on autosomal chromosomes, where both sexes have the same probability of inheritance...

 IPEX syndrome (Immunodysregulation, Polyendocrinopathy
Endocrine disease
Endocrine diseases are disorders of the endocrine system. The branch of medicine associated with endocrine disorders is known as endocrinology.-Types of endocrine disease:Broadly speaking, endocrine disorders may be subdivided into three groups:...

, and Enteropathy
-Types:Specific types of enteropathy include:* Gluten-sensitive enteropathy * Hemorrhagic enteropathy* Protein-losing enteropathy* Porcine proliferative enteropathy * Radiation enteropathy...

, X-linked). These mutations were in the forkhead domain of FOXP3, indicating that the mutations may disrupt critical DNA
Deoxyribonucleic acid is a nucleic acid that contains the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms . The DNA segments that carry this genetic information are called genes, but other DNA sequences have structural purposes, or are involved in...


In mice, a Foxp3 mutation (a frameshift mutation
Frameshift mutation
A frameshift mutation is a genetic mutation caused by indels of a number of nucleotides that is not evenly divisible by three from a DNA sequence...

 that result in protein lacking the forkhead domain) is responsible for 'Scurfy', an X-linked recessive mouse mutant that results in lethality in hemizygous males 16 to 25 days after birth. These mice have overproliferation of CD
Cluster of differentiation
The cluster of differentiation is a protocol used for the identification and investigation of cell surface molecules present on white blood cells, providing targets for immunophenotyping of cells...

4+ T-lymphocytes, extensive multiorgan infiltration, and elevation of numerous cytokine
Cytokines are small cell-signaling protein molecules that are secreted by the glial cells of the nervous system and by numerous cells of the immune system and are a category of signaling molecules used extensively in intercellular communication...

s. This phenotype
A phenotype is an organism's observable characteristics or traits: such as its morphology, development, biochemical or physiological properties, behavior, and products of behavior...

 is similar to those that lack expression of CTLA-4
CTLA4 also known as CD152 is a protein that plays an important regulatory role in the immune system...

, TGF-β, human disease IPEX, or deletion of the Foxp3 gene in mice ("scurfy mice"). The pathology observed in scurfy mice seems to result from an inability to properly regulate CD4+ T-cell activity. In mice overexpressing the Foxp3 gene, fewer T cells are observed. The remaining T cells have poor proliferative and cytolytic responses and poor interleukin-2 production, although thymic
The thymus is a specialized organ of the immune system. The thymus produces and "educates" T-lymphocytes , which are critical cells of the adaptive immune system....

 development appears normal. Histologic
Histology is the study of the microscopic anatomy of cells and tissues of plants and animals. It is performed by examining cells and tissues commonly by sectioning and staining; followed by examination under a light microscope or electron microscope...

 analysis indicates that peripheral lymphoid organs, particularly lymph node
Lymph node
A lymph node is a small ball or an oval-shaped organ of the immune system, distributed widely throughout the body including the armpit and stomach/gut and linked by lymphatic vessels. Lymph nodes are garrisons of B, T, and other immune cells. Lymph nodes are found all through the body, and act as...

s, lack the proper number of cells.

See also

  • Autoimmune regulator
    Autoimmune regulator
    The autoimmune regulator is a protein that in humans is encoded by the AIRE gene. AIRE is a transcription factor expressed in the medulla of the thymus and controls the mechanism that prevents the immune system from attacking the body itself....

  • Autoimmunity
    Autoimmunity is the failure of an organism to recognize its own constituent parts as self, which allows an immune response against its own cells and tissues. Any disease that results from such an aberrant immune response is termed an autoimmune disease...

  • Central tolerance
    Central tolerance
    Central tolerance is the mechanism by which newly developing T cells and B cells are rendered non-reactive to self. The concept of central tolerance was proposed in 1959 by Joshua Lederberg, as part of his general theory of immunity and tolerance, and is often mistakenly attributed to MacFarlane...

  • Immunity
    Immunity (medical)
    Immunity is a biological term that describes a state of having sufficient biological defenses to avoid infection, disease, or other unwanted biological invasion. Immunity involves both specific and non-specific components. The non-specific components act either as barriers or as eliminators of wide...

  • Lymphocytes
  • Thymocyte
    Thymocytes are hematopoietic progenitor cells present in the thymus. Thymopoiesis is the process in the thymus by which thymocytes differentiate into mature T lymphocytes. The primary function of thymocytes is the generation of T lymphocytes . The thymus provides an inductive environment, which...

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