Heterogeneity of respiratory dendritic cell subsets and lymphocyte populations in inbred mouse strains
© Hackstein et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2012
Received: 9 January 2012
Accepted: 17 August 2012
Published: 15 October 2012
Inbred mouse strains are used in different models of respiratory diseases but the variation of critical respiratory leukocyte subpopulations across different strains is unknown.
By using multiparameter flow cytometry we have quantitated respiratory leukocyte subsets including dendritic cells subpopulations, macrophages, classical T and B cells, natural killer cells, γδTCR+ T cells and lineage-negative leukocytes in the five most common inbred mouse strains BALB/c, C57BL/6, DBA/2, 129SV and C3H. To minimize confounding environmental factors, age-matched animals were received from the same provider and were housed under identical specific-pathogen-free conditions.
Results revealed significant strain differences with respect to respiratory neutrophils (p=0.005; up to 1.4 fold differences versus C57BL/6 mice), eosinophils (p=0.029; up to 2.7 fold), certain dendritic cell subsets (p≤0.0003; up to 3.4 fold), T (p<0.001; up to 1.6 fold) and B lymphocyte subsets (p=0.005; up to 0.4 fold), γδ T lymphocytes (p=0.003; up to 1.6 fold), natural killer cells (p<0.0001; up to 0.6 fold) and lineage-negative innate leukocytes (p≤0.007; up to 3.6 fold). In contrast, total respiratory leukocytes, macrophages, total dendritic cells and bronchoalveolar lavage leukocytes did not differ significantly. Stimulation of respiratory leukocytes via Toll-like receptor 4 and 9 as well as CD3/CD28 revealed significant strain differences of TNF-α and IL-10 production.
Our study demonstrates significant strain heterogeneity of respiratory leukocyte subsets that may impact respiratory immunity in different disease models. Additionally, the results may help identification of optimal strains for purification of rare respiratory leukocyte subsets for ex vivo analyses.
Pulmonary host defense is mediated by different types of immunocompetent leukocytes including classical T and B lymphocytes, innate lymphocytes (NK cells, γδ T cells), professional antigen presenting cells (macrophages, dendritic cells) and granulocytes. Recent evidence indicates that these cells are not only stimulators of immunity and inflammation but additionally regulate immune responses and exhibit anti-inflammatory activity. Many respiratory immune responses result in tolerance to subsequent antigen challenge, which is mediated by Foxp3+ regulatory T (Treg) cells interacting with professional antigen presenting cells .
Dendritic cells (DC) are rare professional antigen presenting cells playing critical roles as initiators and regulators of innate and adaptive immunity [2–4]. In the murine respiratory tract, distinct DC subsets have been identified [5, 6]. These respiratory DC subsets form an interdigitating network of cells being specialized for different immunological functions in the respiratory tract. Respiratory DC can be separated based on the expression of different surface markers in at least four major subsets: plasmacytoid DC (pDC), CD103+ DC, CD103neg CD11bhigh MHC-class-IIhigh DC (CD11bhigh DC) and CD103neg CD11b+ MHC-class-IIneg-med monocytic DC (MoDC) [5, 7]. Respiratory pDC are not only involved in limitation of viral respiratory infection  but additionally prevent airway hyperresponsiveness both after infection  and after inhalation of harmless antigens . CD103+ DC have been described to express high levels of the Langerhans cell marker langerin and were increased in mice with airway hyperresponsiveness and eosinophilia suggesting a role in allergen-induced respiratory inflammation  With respect to adaptive T cell immunity against different pathogens, CD103+DC, CD11bhigh DC and MoDC have been identified as major migratory subsets presenting antigens in the draining lymph nodes to naïve CD4+ and CD8+ T cells [5, 12–15].
Although respiratory DC are central for regulation of lung immunity  they closely interact with respiratory T and B cells, innate lymphocytes, such as natural killer (NK) cells and γδ TCR+ T (γδ T) cells and myeloid-derived leukocytes, such as respiratory macrophages and granulocytes.
So far, most of the studies have been focused on selected subsets of respiratory leukocytes and a complete analysis including all mentioned subsets is still lacking. Moreover, it is not clear whether different inbred mouse strains with a different genetic background exhibit differences in the respiratory frequencies of these functionally relevant leukocyte subsets. Given the fact, that inbred mouse strains are known for their marked variation of susceptibility and resistance against various pathogens we hypothesized that inbred mouse strains are likely to exhibit major differences of respiratory leukocyte subset frequencies. In this study we have enumerated the major respiratory leukocyte subsets including DC subpopulations, innate and adaptive lymphocytes, respiratory macrophages and granulocytes in the five most common inbred mouse strains C57BL/6, BALB/c, C3H, DBA/2 and 129SV. Additionally, since increasing evidence suggest an important role of innate lineage-negative (linneg) leukocytes in immunity [17, 18]we also quantitated the frequencies of respiratory linneg leukocytes. The results indicate marked differences in the frequencies of respiratory DC subsets, innate and classical lymphocytes and innate linneg leukocytes providing additional insight into the heterogeneity of inbred mouse strains.
Material and methods
Specific-pathogen-free mice, BALB/c (Balb/cAnNCrl), C57BL/6 (C57BL/6NCrl), DBA/2 (DBA/2NCrl), 129SV (129S2/SVPasCrl) and C3H (C3H/HeNCrl), 7–11 weeks of age were purchased from Charles River, Sulzfeld, Germany and maintained under specific-pathogen-free conditions. The C3H mice do not carry the TLR4LPS-d mutation and are therefore LPS sensitive. Analyses were performed after approval of the regional authority board (animal ethics Giessen A2/2011).
Lung single cell suspension were prepared after enzymatic digestion as described in detail elsewhere  with minor modifications. Briefly, mice were euthanized and lungs were perfused via the right ventricle with HBSS (PAA, Germany) to remove the intravascular pool of cells. Tissues were minced and digestion was performed in 0.09 U/ml type A collagenase (Roche, Germany) and 9.09 U/ml DNase (Roche, Germany) in IMDM (PAA, Germany) with 10% FCS (PAA, Germany) at 37°C for 1h. Single cell suspension were prepared by tissue resuspension with 20 G 1 ½ canules (0.9 x 40 mm; BD, Germany) and by mashing through a 70 μM cell strainer (BD, Germany). Red blood cells were lysed by ammoniumchloride lysis. Cells were washed with HBSS for flow cytometry staining or leukocytes were magnetic-bead sorted after washing with PBS/2% BSA/2mM EDTA (PAA, Germany). Bronchoalveolar lavages (BAL) were performed as described elsewhere . In order to assess whether lung preparations of inbred mouse strains contained different total CD45+ leukocyte numbers we used the trucount method (BD Biosciences, Germany) to enumerate absolute leucocyte counts per lung preparation. The tubes contain a known number of fluorescent beads allowing the flow cytometer software to calculate absolute cell counts.
Flow cytometry and staining procedure
Cellular phenotyping was performed on a FACS CantoII flow cytometer (Becton Dickinson, San Jose, CA, USA). The following fluorochrome-labelled monoclonal antibodies conjugated to FITC, PE, PeCy7, PerCPCy5.5, APC, APC-Cy7, Pacific Blue and appropriate isotype controls were used for surface staining according to the manufacturer’s instructions: CD3e, CD4, CD8a, CD11b, CD11c, CD19, CD25, CD45, CD49b, CD90, CD103, CD127, TCR-γδ, I-A/I-E-, GR1, F4/80 (all mabs from Biolegend, Germany), CD39, Foxp3 (eBioscience, Germany), Siglec-F (BD Biosciences, Germany) and 120g8 (Dendritics, France). The lineage cocktail consisted of the following mAbs: CD3e (BD Pharmingen, Germany), CD4, CD8a, CD11b, CD11c, CD19, B220, TER-119, FceR1 (all from Biolegend, Germany). Autofluorescent respiratory macrophages were identified through Siglec-F expression.
Antibody panels with fluorochromes and mAb clones
Lympho2/ Lin-neg cells
2 E 7
Cell culture experiments, reagents and cytokine quantification
Lung leukocytes were magnet-bead purified using CD45 microbeads (Miltenyi Biotec, Germany) according to the manufacturer instruction (CD45 purity > 85%). Viability of cells was > 90% as indicated by trypan blue staining. 2x105 respiratory leukocytes from different mouse strains were stimulated in 96-well plates (Greiner, Germany) with TLR4 agonist LPS (1 μg/ml; E coli serotype 0111:B4 strain, Sigma Aldrich, Germany), TLR9 agonist CpG 1826 (3.1 μM/ml; Invivogen, France) for 24h and CD3/CD28 mAb (1 μg/ml each, Biolegend, Germany) for 48h in RPMI 1640 medium supplemented with L-glutamine, penicillin/streptomycin, 10% heat-inactivated FCS (PAA Germany). Mouse TNF-α, IFN-γ and IL-10 were quantitated by ELISA (ElisaMax Standard Set, Biolegend, Germany).
The significance of differences between groups were analysed by one-way ANOVA and Tukey post-test for multiple comparisons. A p-value < 0.05 was considered significant. Data are shown as means (± SEM). Statistical analyses were performed with Prism 5.02 software (Graphpad software, Inc.).
Inbred mouse strains exhibit similar numbers of total respiratory leukocytes, macrophages, DC, BAL but different granulocyte numbers
Fold differences of respiratory leukocyte subset frequencies in comparison to C57BL/6 mice 1
BALB/c (± SEM)
DBA/2 (± SEM)
C3H (± SEM)
129SV (± SEM)
Siglec F+ F4/80+ macrophages
Dendritic cell (DC) subsets
CD3+ T cells
CD3+ CD4+ T helper cells
CD3+ CD8+ T cells
CD4+ CD25+ T cells
CD19+ B cells
Innate lymphocytes and Lin neg leukocytes
CD49b+ NK cells
TCR γδ+ T cells
Linneg CD45+ CD90+ innate cells
Linneg CD45+ CD90neg innate cells
T regulator cell populations
CD4+ CD25high T cells
CD4+ CD25high Foxp3+ Treg cells
CD4+ CD25high CD39+Foxp3+ Treg cells
CD4+ CD25+ CD127lo/neg Treg cells
Significant differences of respiratory dendritic cell subsets across inbred mouse strains
Inbred mouse strains show marked differences of respiratory T and B cells, innate lymphocytes and Linneg leukocytes
With respect to respiratory B cells, C57BL/6 mice exhibited significant elevation of respiratory CD19+ lymphocyte numbers when compared to any other inbred mouse strain (Figure 6E). Flow cytometry analysis revealed significantly elevated NK cell numbers in C3H mice versus C57BL/6, BALB/c and 129 SV mice (Figure 6F). With respect to respiratory γδ T cells, C3H mice also exhibited the highest numbers, but strain heterogeneity was less pronounced (Figure 6G). Linneg respiratory leukocytes were stratified according to CD90 expression and showed also strain heterogeneity (Figure 6 H,I). The highest Linneg CD90+ leukocyte numbers were detectable in BALB/c mice (2.1% ± 0.1) and the lowest numbers in DBA mice (0.7% ± 0.07; p<0.001). In contrast, Linneg CD90neg leukocyte numbers elevated in C3H mice (1.2% ± 0.22) and decreased in C57BL/6 mice (0.3% ± 0.12; p<0.001). These results indicated marked strain heterogeneity of respiratory lymphocytes and innate leukocyte numbers with major differences between C57BL/6, BALB/c and 129 SV mice. Lungs of C57BL/6 mice can be characterized as B cell “rich”, whereas BALB/c and 129SV mice are rich in T cells. With respect to innate lymphocytes, C3H and DBA mice can be characterized as rich in NK cells and γδ T cells. Magnitude of lymphocyte subset fold-differences in comparison to C57BL/6 mice is summarized in Table 2.
Cytokine production after stimulation of respiratory leukocytes from inbred mouse strains
Significant differences of respiratory Foxp3+ Treg cells across inbred mouse strains
In this report we demonstrate marked strain heterogeneity of respiratory leukocyte subsets in five major inbred mouse strains. To our knowledge this is the first analysis that has quantitated DC subsets, macrophages, classical lymphocyte subsets, Treg subsets, innate lymphocytes including γδ T cells and linneg leukocytes in the respiratory tract. Environmental effects are unlikely to account for these differences, since specific-pathogen free age-matched animals were received from the same provider and housed under specific-pathogen free conditions. The enumerated leukocyte subsets are essential for different immunological tasks and therefore it is possible that the observed strain heterogeneity influences respiratory immunity to different pathogens.
With respect to respiratory DC subsets we found a striking elevation of respiratory pDC in 129SV mice in comparison to all other strains. These results extend the finding of Asselin-Paturel et al., and Nakano et al. who reported significantly elevated pDC frequencies in spleen and blood of 129SV mice [20, 21]. Since respiratory pDC represent a key DC subset responding to viral infection and additionally play an immunoregulatory role by preventing airway hyperresponsiveness, higher pDC numbers may influence pathogenesis of respiratory allergy and viral infection in 129SV mice versus other strains. With respect to respiratory CD103+ DC our results indicated that C3H mice exhibited significantly higher numbers in comparison to 129Sv and DBA mice. Given the critical role of respiratory CD103+ DC for activation of naive CD8+ T killer cells in respiratory viral infections [5, 22], different CD103+ DC numbers may impact the strain-dependent capacity to generate viral CD8+ T cell immunity. Moreover, differences have also been reported according to DC endocytosis receptor expression, such as mannose receptor  and CD207 (langerin, a c-type specific lectin)  highlighting separate levels of strain heterogeneity. In line with these reports, our analysis of respiratory leukocytes indicated significant strain differences to produce TNF-α and IL-10 that is partially dependent on the selected Toll-like receptor ligand and the activated leukocyte subset. Our results revealed that respiratory leukocytes of BALB/c mice produced the highest TNF-α levels both after TLR4 stimulation through LPS and after T-cell stimulation through CD3/CD28 mAbs. These results support the finding of Gosselin et al. demonstrating that resistance of BALB/c mice to pseudomonas aeruginosa is dependent on increased TNF-α production .
In addition to significant differences of DC subsets and cytokine production capacity we found marked differences of respiratory Foxp3+ Treg frequencies across different inbred strains. In general terms, BALB/c and 129SV mice exhibited significantly higher respiratory Treg numbers than C3H and DBA mice. Respiratory Treg elevation was evident with respect to four different Treg subsets, namely CD4+ CD25high, CD4+ CD25high Foxp3+, CD4+ CD25high Foxp3+ CD39 and CD4+ CD25+ CD127low/neg Tregs. Given the important role of Treg in immunoregulation, additional studies are required to dissect the genetic cause und functional relevance of Treg differences in inbred mouse strains.
Both numerical and functional leukocyte strain variabilities are likely to contribute to innate resistance and susceptibility to infection with various pathogens. Examples are the unique susceptibility of DBA/2 mice to pulmonary tuberculosis as well as resistance of 129S6/SVevTac mice to salmonella typhimurium infection . Genetic dissection of strain heterogeneity promoted the discovery of several highly relevant immune response genes and modifiers underlining the importance of inbred mouse models to understand innate and adaptive immunity [26, 27].
Furthermore, knowledge of significant numerical differences of respiratory leukocyte subsets is also practically relevant for the planning and setup of ex vivo experiments. Several functionally distinct cells, like pDC, represent extremely rare subsets in the lung and therefore ex vivo analysis of sufficient numbers of purified respiratory pDC is technically difficult. Accordingly, our results may help identification of the suitable inbred mouse strain with the highest pDC numbers. Given pDC frequencies in the five major inbred strains ranging from 0.15% (mean of C3H mice) to 0.58% (mean of 129SV mice) of leukocytes while having similar total leukocyte counts, selection of the 129SV mouse would increase the pDC yield 3 to 4-fold and would save both animal numbers and procedural time. Similar conclusions can be drawn with respect to sorting of rare Linneg leukocytes populations from the lungs for ex vivo experiments. Our results indicated that C57BL/6 mice have only few Linneg CD90neg leukocytes (mean 0.34% of leukocytes) in comparison to C3H mice (mean 1.25 %).
In more general terms, our study indicated characteristic respiratory immunophenotypes of inbred mouse strain: BALB/c mice are rich of eosinophils and Treg cells; C57BL/6 mice are rich of B cells and low in eosinophils. In contrast, 129SV mice are high in pDC and Tregs and C3H mice are high in CD103+ DC, NK cells and γδ T cells. These characteristic immunophenotypes may help the selection of strains for respiratory disease models, e.g. if the analysis and purification of respiratory pDC during viral pneumonia is required then 129SV mice would be a suitable model. However, besides different respiratory immunophenotypes, many other functionally relevant strain differences have been reported. Therefore, careful strain selection based on disease model and published strain differences may help to select the best mouse strain representing human phenotypes. In this context, DeVooght et al. recently reported, that choice of mouse strain significantly influenced the outcome in a model of chemical-induced asthma. They reported that the human phenotype of chemical-induced asthma was best reproduced in BALB/c when compared to 6 other strains .
Inbred mouse strain differences have been reported with respect to different aspects of inflammation. With respect to the respiratory irritant ozone, C57BL/6 mice have been reported relatively susceptible when compared to relatively resistant C3H mice . With respect to chronic pseudomonas aeruginosa infection, BALB/c mice are resistant in comparison to highly susceptible DBA/2 mice . Similarly, in a pneumovirus model, BALB/c and C57BL/6 strains were reported to be relatively resistant in comparison to DBA/2 or 129SV mice .
In summary, the present study highlights marked numerical differences of several important leukocytes subsets in the lungs of major inbred mouse strains. Although our results are primarily descriptive, it may provide the basis for additional functional studies under inflammatory in vivo conditions. Variation of respiratory immune responses and cytokine production capacity may partially be related to strain differences in respiratory leukocyte composition and function.
The work was supported by the SFB Transregio 84, German Science Foundation, Innate Immunity of the Lung: Mechanisms of Pathogen Attack and Host Defence in Pneumonia (SFB TR84, Project B3 HH, JL). Additional support was provided by UGMLC (University Gieβen and Marburg Lung Center) and Excellence Cluster Cardiopulmonary System (ECCPS). The authors thank Gabriela Haley for technical assistance.
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