Inducible T cell co-stimulator (ICOS), an immune checkpoint protein expressed on activated T cells and its unique ligand, ICOSL, which is expressed on antigen-presenting cells and non-hematopoietic cells, have been extensively investigated in the immune response. Recent findings showed that a soluble recombinant form of ICOS (ICOS-Fc) can act as an innovative immunomodulatory drug as both antagonist of ICOS and agonist of ICOSL, modulating cytokine release and cell migration to inflamed tissues. Although the ICOS-ICOSL pathway has been poorly investigated in the septic context, a few studies have reported that septic patients have reduced ICOS expression in whole blood and increased serum levels of osteopontin (OPN), that is another ligand of ICOSL. Thus, we investigated the pathological role of the ICOS-ICOSL axis in the context of sepsis and the potential protective effects of its immunomodulation by administering ICOS-Fc in a murine model of sepsis. Polymicrobial sepsis was induced by cecal ligation and puncture (CLP) in five-month-old male wild-type (WT) C57BL/6, ICOS-/-, ICOSL-/- and OPN-/- mice. One hour after the surgical procedure, either CLP or Sham (control) mice were randomly assigned to receive once ICOS-Fc, (ICOS)-I-F119S-Fc, a mutated form uncapable to bind ICOSL, or vehicle intravenously. Organs and plasma were collected 24 h after surgery for analyses. When compared to Sham mice, WT mice that underwent CLP developed within 24 h a higher clinical severity score, a reduced body temperature, an increase in plasma cytokines (TNF-alpha, IL-1 beta, IL-6, IFN-gamma and IL-10), liver injury (AST and ALT) and kidney (creatinine and urea) dysfunction. Administration of ICOS-Fc to WT CLP mice reduced all of these abnormalities caused by sepsis. Similar beneficial effects were not seen in CLP-mice treated with (ICOS)-I-F119S-Fc. Treatment of CLP-mice with ICOS-Fc also attenuated the sepsis-induced local activation of FAK, P38 MAPK and NLRP3 inflammasome. ICOS-Fc seemed to act at both sides of the ICOS-ICOSL interaction, as the protective effect was lost in septic knockout mice for the ICOS or ICOSL genes, whereas it was maintained in OPN knockout mice. Collectively, our data show the beneficial effects of pharmacological modulation of the ICOS-ICOSL pathway in counteracting the sepsis-induced inflammation and organ dysfunction.
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