FOXP3 expression in blood, synovial fluid and synovial tissue during inflammatory arthritis and intra-articular corticosteroid treatment

S Raghavan, D Cao, M Widhe, K Roth, J Herrath, M Engström, G Roncador, A H Banham, C Trollmo, A I Catrina, V Malmström
Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases 2009, 68 (12): 1908-15

OBJECTIVE: To analyse the distribution of FOXP3+CD25+CD4+ regulatory T cells (Treg) in peripheral blood, synovial fluid and tissue of patients with rheumatic disease during relapse and after local treatment.

METHODS: FOXP3 expression was assessed by flow cytometry, immunohistochemistry, immunofluorescence and real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). The functional suppressive capacity of Treg was analysed after co-culture with effector CD4+CD25- T cells through assessment of proliferation and cytokine secretion.

RESULTS: It was shown that FOXP3 protein and mRNA expression in synovial fluid T cells was not confined solely to CD25(bright) T cells as seen in blood, but included CD25(intermediate) and even CD25(neg) T cells. Indeed, synovial fluid CD25(high) T cells showed similar suppressive capacity as CD25(bright) T cells, indicating the presence of functional Treg in T cells with lower intensity of CD25. In synovial tissue, FOXP3+ cells were present in low numbers within T-cell infiltrates and decreased further after intra-articular glucocorticosteroid administration, in parallel with the general reduction in inflammation.

CONCLUSIONS: Identification of synovial fluid FOXP3+ Treg with varying intensities of CD25 opens up possibilities for thorough characterisation of this important T-cell subset in the inflammatory compartment. However, only scarce synovial membrane expression of FOXP3 was found even in the absence of overt inflammation, suggesting that the synovial membrane is a site that would benefit therapeutically from Treg expansion.

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