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Int Immunol. 2008 Aug;20(8):971-9. doi: 10.1093/intimm/dxn056. Epub 2008 Jun 11.

Progressive divergent shifts in natural and induced T-regulatory cells signify the transition from undifferentiated to definitive connective tissue disease.

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Division of Clinical Immunology, 3rd Department of Medicine, Medical and Health Science Center, University of Debrecen, Debrecen, Hungary.


The objectives of the study is to determine clinical signs and distribution of peripheral T-cell subsets, B cells and T regulatory cells in patients with undifferentiated connective tissue disease (UCTD) and during the development toward well-established connective tissue diseases (CTD). The methods include 46 patients with UCTD were followed and investigated for differentiation into defined CTDs for 2 years. Cell subsets were determined on the basis of cell surface markers, intracellular cytokine production by flow cytometry and serum cytokine levels by ELISA. The results are as follows: 45.6% of UCTD patients developed into a defined CTD. The number and percentage of activated T cells, memory T cells and NKT cells were increased in patients compared with controls. In addition, in patients with UCTD, the percentage of CD4+/IFN gamma+ T(h)1 was significantly higher compared with controls and further increased in patients that developed CTDs. The percentage and absolute number of CD4+CD25+Foxp3+ regulatory T cells (Tregs) were diminished in UCTD patients compared with healthy controls, while the number of CD4+/IL-10+ Tregs increased. The conclusions are Overproduction of IFN gamma and the decrease of natural (Foxp3+) Tregs seem to be characteristic features of UCTD patients. The increased IL-10 production of CD4+ T cells might be a compensatory suppressive mechanism; however, it is probably not able to balance the overproduction of IFN gamma and the observed decrease of Foxp3+ Tregs. The shift toward T(h)1 with increased IFN gamma production in patients with UCTD combined with the degree of immunoregulatory disturbances characterized by the progressive divergent shifts in natural and induced T-regulatory cell populations signify the transition from undifferentiated to definitive CTD.

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