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Cytokine mRNA and protein expression in primary-culture and repeated-passage synovial fibroblasts from patients with rheumatoid arthritis

Astrid Hirth1, Alla Skapenko2, Raimund W Kinne3, Frank Emmrich1, Hendrik Schulze-Koops2 and Ulrich Sack1*

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Clinical Immunology and Transfusion Medicine, University of Leipzig, Leipzig, Germany

2 Clinical Research Group III, Nikolaus Fiebiger Center for Molecular Medicine and Department of Internal Medicine III and Institute for Clinical Immunology, Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nuremberg, Erlangen Germany

3 Experimental Rheumatology Unit, Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Jena, Germany

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Arthritis Res 2002, 4:117-125  doi:10.1186/ar391

Published: 8 November 2001


Constitutive mRNA expression and secretion of proinflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines was comparatively analyzed in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) synovial fibroblasts (SFB), isolated from primary culture or derived by repeated passage; normal-skin fibroblasts were used as controls. First-passage RA-SFB (n = 3) secreted large amounts of IL-6 (15,800 ± 2,110 pg/ml; mean ± SEM), but only limited amounts of tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-α (22.1 ± 1.1 pg/ml) or IL-10 (35.7 ± 34.2 pg/ml; only one of three samples was positive). IL-1β, IL-15, and IL-18 were not detectable at the protein level and showed very low mRNA levels by semiquantitative RT-PCR. In repeated-passage RA-SFB (tenth passage), protein secretion was significantly lower for IL-6 (one-twentieth of the initial level) and TNF-α (two-thirds), and markedly reduced for IL-10 (one-quarter, with only one of three samples positive). While the decrease of IL-10 protein from first to tenth passage was paralleled by a corresponding decrease of mRNA, the relative mRNA levels for IL-6 and TNF-α were actually increased (20-fold and 300-fold, respectively), indicating post-transcriptional and/or post-translational regulation of these cytokines. Due to highly variable levels among individual patients, however, no significant differences were observed for any cytokine mRNA between primary-culture and repeated-passage RA-SFB (ninth passage). Likewise, no significant differences were detectable between RA-SFB and normal-skin fibroblasts (primary-culture and repeated-passage). By producing high amounts of IL-6 and limited amounts of TNF-α, RA-SFB may contribute to the (im)balance of proinflammatory and anti-inflammatory cytokines in the inflamed joint.

cytokines; inflammation; mRNA; rheumatoid arthritis; synovial fibroblasts