The role of the immune system in stroke is well-recognised. Fingolimod, an immunomodulatory agent licensed for the management of relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, has been shown to provide benefit in rodent models of stroke. Its mechanism of action, however, remains unclear. We hypothesised fingolimod increases the number and/or function of regulatory T cells (Treg), a lymphocyte population which promotes stroke recovery. The primary aim of this study was to rigorously investigate the effect of fingolimod on Tregs in a mouse model of brain ischaemia. The effect of fingolimod in mice with common stroke-related comorbidities (ageing and hypercholesteremia) was also investigated.
Young (15-17 weeks), aged C57BL/6 mice (72-73 weeks), and ApoE-/- mice fed a high-fat diet (20-21 weeks) underwent permanent electrocoagulation of the left middle cerebral artery. Mice received either saline or fingolimod (0.5 mg/kg or 1 mg/kg) at 2, 24, and 48 h post-ischaemia via intraperitoneal injection. Another cohort of young mice (8-9, 17-19 weeks) received short-term (5 days) or long-term (10 days) fingolimod (0.5 mg/kg) treatment. Flow cytometry was used to quantify Tregs in blood, spleen, and lymph nodes. Immunohistochemistry was used to quantify FoxP3+ cell infiltration into the ischaemic brain.
Fingolimod significantly increased the frequency of Tregs within the CD4+ T cell population in blood and spleen post-ischaemia in all three mouse cohorts compared to untreated ischemic mice. The highest splenic Treg frequency in fingolimod-treated mice was observed in ApoE-/- mice (9.32 ± 1.73% vs. 7.8 ± 3.01% in young, 6.09 ± 1.64% in aged mice). The highest circulating Treg frequency was also noted in ApoE-/- mice (8.39 ± 3.26% vs. 5.43 ± 2.74% in young, 4.56 ± 1.60% in aged mice). Fingolimod significantly increased the number of FoxP3+ cells in the infarct core of all mice. The most pronounced effects were seen when mice were treated for 10 days post-ischaemia.
Fingolimod increases Treg frequency in spleen and blood post-ischaemia and enhances the number of FoxP3+ cells in the ischaemic brain. The effect of fingolimod on this regulatory cell population may underlie its neuroprotective activity and could be exploited as part of future stroke therapy.