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J Clin Invest. Mar 1993; 91(3): 862–870.
PMCID: PMC288038

Modulation of monocyte activation in patients with rheumatoid arthritis by leukapheresis therapy.


One of the hallmarks in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is the intense activation of the monocyte-macrophage system. In the present investigation, the modulation of blood monocyte activation was studied with regard to the secretion of cytokines and inflammatory mediators, and to the expression of cytokine receptors. Patients with severe active RA underwent repeated leukapheresis procedures that removed all circulating monocytes. Highly enriched monocyte preparations from the first and third leukapheresis were studied. There were striking differences between the two monocyte populations. Cells obtained from the first leukapheresis constitutively released large amounts of prostaglandin E2 (PGE2), neopterin, interleukin 1 beta (IL-1 beta) and tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha). In particular, IL-1 beta and neopterin production were further enhanced by stimulation with either interferon-gamma (IFN-gamma) or TNF-alpha without a synergistic effect. In contrast, cells derived from the third leukapheresis procedure showed a close to normal activation status with only low levels of cytokine and mediator production as well as a reduced response to cytokine stimulation. The number of the receptors for IFN-gamma and TNF-alpha was not changed between first and third leukapheresis. However, TNF-binding capacity was only detectable upon acid treatment of freshly isolated monocytes. A further upregulation was noted upon 24 h in vitro culture, suggesting occupation of membrane receptors and receptor down-regulation by endogenously produced TNF-alpha. Northern blot analysis of cytokine gene expression was in good correlation with the amount of mediators determined on the protein level. These data indicate that cells of the monocyte-macrophage system are already highly activated in the peripheral blood in RA patients with active disease. These cells can be efficiently removed by repeated leukapheresis and are replenished by monocytes that have, with respect to cytokine and mediator production, a considerably lower activation status.

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