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J Immunol. 2006 Feb 15;176(4):2617-24.

TNF-alpha blockade down-regulates the CD40/CD40L pathway in the mucosal microcirculation: a novel anti-inflammatory mechanism of infliximab in Crohn's disease.

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Department of Internal Medicine, Catholic University, Rome, Italy.


The CD40/CD40 ligand (CD40L) pathway is involved in Crohn's disease (CD) pathogenesis. In the patients' circulation, soluble CD40L (sCD40L) levels are elevated and surface CD40L is increased in platelets and T cells, whereas in the intestine CD40 is overexpressed in the microvasculature and CD40L in platelets and T cells. The therapeutic effects of infliximab in CD are attributed to its systemic anti-TNF-alpha action, but because TNF-alpha modulates both CD40 and CD40L, we investigated whether infliximab affects the CD40/CD40L pathway in the intestine. Eighteen CD patients were evaluated before and after infliximab therapy. Plasma sCD40L was measured by ELISA and platelet and peripheral blood T cell (PBT) CD40L expression by flow cytometry. Microvascular CD40 and VCAM-1 expression were assessed in mucosal biopsies by immunohistochemistry and by flow cytometry in human intestinal microvascular endothelial cells (HIMEC). Cell cultures were performed in the presence and absence of infliximab. Infliximab treatment significantly reduced plasma sCD40L levels and eliminated CD40 and VCAM-1 from mucosal microvessels. In vitro infliximab prevented TNF-alpha-induced CD40 and VCAM-1 expression by HIMEC, and reduced PBT, but not platelet, surface CD40L expression and sCD40L release. In addition, infliximab decreased T cell-induced VCAM-1 expression in HIMEC by down-regulating CD40L in T cells and promoting T cells apoptosis. These findings point to a novel mechanism of action of infliximab, i.e., the disruption of CD40/CD40L-dependent cognate interactions between intestinal microvessels and T cells. Thus, in addition to neutralizing TNF-alpha and inducing T cell death, the therapeutic effects of infliximab in CD appear to be also mediated by inhibition of vascular inflammation in the gut.

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