Analysis of Th1 and Th2 cytokines expressing CD4+ and CD8+ T cells in rheumatoid arthritis by flow cytometry.J Rheumatol. 2000 May; 27(5):1128-35.JR
A Th1/Th2 cytokine imbalance with a predominance of Th1 cytokines has been suggested to be of pathogenetic importance in rheumatoid arthritis (RA). To evaluate the role of Th1/Th2 cytokines in RA, we used intracellular cytokine flow cytometry to determine cytokine profiles of CD4+ and CD8+ T cells in 34 peripheral blood (PB) and 10 synovial fluid (SF) samples from patients with RA. Results were compared with 10 PB samples from healthy controls (HC) and 5 SF samples from patients with non-RA synovitis.
After stimulating cells with PMA and ionomycin or alternatively with anti-CD3/CD28 in the presence of brefeldin A, intracellular levels of Th1 [interleukin 2 (IL-2), interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma)] and Th2 cytokines (IL-4, IL-5, IL-10, IL-13) were determined for CD3+CD8- (i.e., CD4+ Th1 and Th2 cells) and CD3+CD8+ (i.e., CD8+ Tc1 and Tc2 cells) T cells.
The percentages of CD4+ and CD8+ Th1 and Th2 cytokines producing T cells (PB) were similar in patients with RA and healthy controls (HC), with a clear predominance of Th1 cytokines expressing, T cells. With regard to T cell subsets, IFN-gamma-producing T cells were significantly more frequently detected in the CD8+ subset [CD8+: median 45.1% (RA; p < 0.001), 38.2% (HC; p = 0.009) vs CD4+: 10.8%(RA), 17.0% (HC)]. Conversely, IL-2 was found in a higher percentage of CD4+ T cells [CD4+: median 33.4% (RA), 17.9% (HC) vs CD8+: 23.6% (RA), 12.3% (HC)]. Patients not in disease remission tended to have more IFN-gamma-producing CD8+ and IL-2-producing CD4+ T cells than patients in remission [CD8+: median 45.9% (IFN-gamma) vs 23.0% (IFN-gamma); CD4+: median 34.1% (IL-2) vs 18.2% (IL-2)1. In all PB samples, the proportion of T cells producing the Th2 cytokines IL-4, IL-5, IL-10, and IL-13 did not exceed 2%. Cytokine profiles did not differ between patients receiving immunosuppressive treatment and patients treated only with nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs. In comparison to PB, RA SF analysis revealed a significant increase in the percentage of IFN-gamma-producing CD4+ (p < 0.001) and CD8+ T cells (p < 0.001). In addition, the percentage of IL-10-producing CD4+ (p < 0.001) as well as CD8+ T cells (p = 0.001) was significantly elevated in SF. However, production of the other Th2 cytokines (IL-4, IL-5, IL-13) was similar in SF and PB.
These data indicate similar cytokine profiles of T cells in PB of RA patients and healthy controls, with a strong predominance of Th1 cytokines producing T cells in the CD4+ and CD8+ T cell subset of both groups. PB cytokine profiles did not significantly differ in patients with active and non-active disease or between patients receiving and those not receiving immunosuppressive medication. In SF, the proportion of Th1 and Tcl cells was significantly elevated compared to PB, emphasizing the local importance of these cells for inflammation. CD8+ T cells (Tc1 cells) mainly contributed to the production of IFN-gamma, indicating an underestimated role of this cell subset for local cytokine production. The upregulation of IL-10-producing Th2 and Tc2 cells in SF may reflect an insufficient effort to down-regulate chronic inflammation in the joint. Modifying this cytokine imbalance in the joints may be a promising therapeutic approach in RA.