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Differentiation of naive CD4+ T cells towards T helper 2 cells is not impaired in rheumatoid arthritis patients

Joël AG van Roon*, Catharina AFM Glaudemans, Johannes WJ Bijlsma and Floris PJG Lafeber

Author Affiliations

Department of Rheumatology and Clinical Immunology, University Medical Center Utrecht, The Netherlands

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Arthritis Res Ther 2003, 5:R269-R276  doi:10.1186/ar790

Published: 3 July 2003


An impaired differentiation of naive CD4+ T cells towards Th2 cells may contribute to the chronic tissue-destructive T-cell activity in rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The differentiation of naive CD4+ T cells into memory Th2 cells by IL-7 in comparison with that by IL-4 was studied in RA patients and in healthy controls. Naive CD4+ T cells from peripheral blood were differentiated by CD3/CD28 costimulation in the absence of or in the presence of IL-7 and/or IL-4. The production of IFN-γ and IL-4 was measured by ELISA and by single-cell FACS analysis to indicate Th1 and Th2 cell activity. CD3/CD28 costimulation and IL-7 were early inducers of IL-4 production, but primarily stimulated IFN-γ production. In contrast, in short-term cultures exogenously added IL-4 did not prime for IL-4 production but suppressed IL-7-induced IFN-γ production. Upon long-term stimulation of naive CD4+ T cells, IFN-γ production was differentially regulated by IL-7 and IL-4, but IL-4 production was increased by both IL-7 and IL-4. IL-7 and IL-4 additively induced polarization towards a Th2 phenotype. This susceptibility of naive CD4+ T cells to become Th2 cells upon culture with IL-7 and IL-4 was increased in RA patients compared with that in healthy controls. These findings demonstrate that, in RA patients, differentiation of naive CD4+ T cells towards a Th2 phenotype by CD3/CD28 costimulation, IL-7 and IL-4 is not impaired. The perpetuation of arthritogenic T-cell activity in RA therefore seems not to be the result of intrinsic defects of naive CD4+ T cells to develop towards suppressive memory Th2 cells.

IL-4; IL-7; naive CD4+ T cells; rheumatoid arthritis; Th1/Th2