This article is part of the supplement: 6th Global Arthritis Research Network (GARN) Meeting

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IL-21 modulates cytokine levels in murine collagen-induced arthritis and contributes to disease pathology

DA Young, M Hegen, H Ma, L Napierata, J Lamothe, M Senices, L Lowe, M Collins and C Nickerson-Nutter

Author affiliations

Inflammation, Wyeth Research, Cambridge, MA, USA

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Citation and License

Arthritis Research & Therapy 2007, 9(Suppl 3):P1  doi:10.1186/ar2227

The electronic version of this article is the complete one and can be found online at:

Published:19 October 2007

© 2007 BioMed Central Ltd


IL-21 is secreted by activated T cells and modulates immune cell functions with both proinflammatory and anti-inflammatory effects. IL-21 receptor (IL-21R), homologous to IL-2Rβ and IL-4Rα, associates with the gamma common chain upon ligand binding. It was recently described that IL-21R is overexpressed in the inflamed synovial membrane and on leucocytes of rheumatoid arthritis patients.


Previously we have shown that blockade of the IL-21 pathway with soluble IL-21R-Fc resulted in a reduction of clinical signs of arthritis in rodent models. To understand potential mechanisms of IL-21 regulation in arthritis, we analyzed serum immunoglobulin levels, and cytokine expression in the paws, serum, and collagen-restimulated splenocytes, in response to IL-21 pathway blockade.


Arthritis was induced in DBA/1 male mice with bovine type II collagen. Animals were treated with either soluble mIL-21R-Fc, which neutralizes murine IL-21 bioactivity, with TNFRII-Fc or with control IgG. Spleens from each group of treated mice were cultured in vitro with collagen and assayed for cytokine secretion. Cytokines and anticollagen-specific IgG levels were also measured in the serum by ELISA. Cytokine mRNA levels in the paws were evaluated by quantitative PCR analysis.


Treatment of mice with IL-21R-Fc or TNFRII-Fc reduced clinical and histological signs of collagen-induced arthritis. IL-6 mRNA in paws and serum IL-6 levels were decreased after IL-21R-Fc treatment. IFNγ mRNA was increased in paws of IL-21R-Fc-treated mice. Collagen-specific spleen cell responses from IL-21R-Fc-treated mice exhibited increased IFNγ and IL-2, and reduced IL-6 and IL-17 levels. Serum levels of total IgG1 were also reduced in response to IL-21R-Fc treatment.


These data demonstrate a role for IL-21 in the modulation of collagen-specific T-cell responses and the pathology of arthritis, supporting a rationale for blockade of the IL-21 pathway in rheumatoid arthritis.