Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Frequency of Th17 CD20+ cells in the peripheral blood of rheumatoid arthritis patients is higher compared to healthy subjects

Paul Eggleton1*, Edwin Bremer2, Joanna M Tarr1, Marco de Bruyn2, Wijnand Helfrich2, Alexandra Kendall1, Richard C Haigh13, Nick J Viner14 and Paul G Winyard1*

Author Affiliations

1 Peninsula Medical School, University of Exeter, Heavitree Road, Exeter EX1 2LU, UK

2 Department of Surgery, University Medical Center Groningen, Surgical Research Laboratory, Hanzeplein 1, Groningen 9713 EZ, The Netherlands

3 Department of Rheumatology, Royal Devon and Exeter Foundation Trust Hospital, Exeter EX2 5DW, UK

4 Department of Rheumatology, Torbay Hospital, Torquay TQ2 7AA, UK

For all author emails, please log on.

Arthritis Research & Therapy 2011, 13:R208  doi:10.1186/ar3541

Published: 15 December 2011



Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is considered a T cell driven autoimmune disease, therefore, the ability of B cell depleting biologics, e.g., anti-CD20 antibodies, to alleviate RA is unclear. This study examined the proportions of IL-17-secreting lymphocytes in the blood of healthy subjects and RA patients and determined if Th17 cells belong to a CD20+ subset of T cells.


Fluorescence-activated cell sorting and confocal microscopy verified CD3, CD4/CD8 and CD20-staining of T cells. IL-17 secretion was determined using a commercial assay.


In healthy subjects and RA patients blood, the median percentage of total CD20+ lymphocytes was similar (7.5%; n = 6 and 10.3%; n = 9, respectively) and comprised predominantly of B cells (~ 86%). However, 2-4% of CD3+ T cells from both healthy subjects (n = 7) and RA (n = 8) individuals co-expressed CD20. The peripheral blood of healthy subjects contained few IL-17-secreting CD20+ T cells (< 0.1%; n = 6). In contrast, in RA blood a median and interquartile range % of, 24.2%; IQR 28.5 of IL-17-secreting T cells were CD20+ (n = 9; p = 0.02).


In the blood of RA patients, a greater proportion of Th17 cells are of a CD20+ phenotype compared to healthy individuals. These cells may represent an additional target for anti-CD20 therapies.