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Interleukin-7-aggravated joint inflammation and tissue destruction in collagen-induced arthritis is associated with T-cell and B-cell activation

Sarita AY Hartgring1*, Cynthia R Willis2, Johannes WJ Bijlsma1, Floris PJG Lafeber1 and Joel AG van Roon1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Rheumatology & Clinical Immunology, UMC Utrecht, Heidelberglaan 100, Utrecht, PO Box 85500 F02.127 3508 GA, The Netherlands

2 Inflammation Department, Amgen Inc., 1201 Amgen Court West, Seattle, WA 98119, USA

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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2012, 14:R137  doi:10.1186/ar3870

Published: 7 June 2012



We sought to investigate the capacity of interleukin (IL)-7 to enhance collagen-induced arthritis and to study by what mechanisms this is achieved.


Mice received multiple injections with IL-7 or phosphate-buffered saline (PBS) as a control. Arthritis severity and incidence were determined by visual examination of the paws. Joint destruction was determined by assessing radiographs and immunohistochemistry of the ankle joints. Total cellularity and numbers of T-cell and B-cell subsets were assessed, as well as ex vivo production of interferon-γ (IFN-γ), IL-17, and IL-4. Proinflammatory mediators were measured in serum with multianalyte profiling.


IL-7 increased arthritis severity and radiology-assessed joint destruction. This was consistent with IL-7-increased intensity of cell infiltrates, bone erosions, and cartilage damage. Splenic CD19+ B cells and CD19+/GL7+ germinal center B cells, as well as CD4 and CD8 numbers, were increased by IL-7. IL-7 expanded memory T cells, associated with increased percentages of IFN-γ-, IL-4-, and IL-17-producing CD4+ T cells. On antigen restimulation of draining lymph node cells in vitro IL-7 treatment was found to increase IFN-γ and IL-17 production, whereas IL-4 was reduced. IL-7 also increased concentrations of proinflammatory mediators, indicative of T-cell activation (sCD40L), vascular activation (VCAM-1, VEGF), tissue destruction (fibroblast growth factor-basic (FGF-b), LIF), and chemotaxis (MIP-1γ, MIP-3β, lymphotactin, MDC, and MCP-5).


In arthritic mice, IL-7 causes expansion of T and B cells, associated with increased levels of proinflammatory mediators. IL-7 intensifies arthritis severity and joint destruction, accompanied by increased Th1 and Th17 activity. These data indicate that IL-7 could be an important mediator in arthritic conditions and that targeting IL-7 or its receptor represent novel therapeutic strategies.