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Arthritis Rheum. 2009 Sep;60(9):2595-605. doi: 10.1002/art.24754.

Elevated expression of interleukin-7 receptor in inflamed joints mediates interleukin-7-induced immune activation in rheumatoid arthritis.

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  • 1Department of Rheumatology and Clinical Immunology, University Medical Center Utrecht, Utrecht, The Netherlands.



To evaluate the expression and functional ability of the high-affinity interleukin-7 receptor (IL-7Ralpha) in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).


Expression of IL-7Ralpha and IL-7 was determined in synovial tissue from RA patients and was compared with that in synovial tissue from patients with undifferentiated arthritis (UA) and osteoarthritis (OA). IL-7Ralpha expression on CD4 T cells, CD19 B cells, and CD14 monocyte/macrophages from RA synovial tissue, synovial fluid, and peripheral blood was also assessed. The proliferative capacity of IL-7Ralpha(bright) and IL-7Ralpha(dim/-) T cells was measured. In addition, we examined IL-7R blockade with soluble human IL-7Ralpha (hIL-7Ralpha) in the prevention of immune activation of peripheral blood mononuclear cells.


We found significantly higher IL-7Ralpha expression in RA and UA synovial tissue than in OA synovial tissue, and the level of IL-7Ralpha expression correlated significantly with the levels of CD3 and IL-7 expression. CD4 T cells from RA synovial fluid and synovial tissue strongly expressed IL-7Ralpha. A substantial percentage of B cells and macrophages from RA synovial fluid and synovial tissue also expressed IL-7Ralpha, although less prominently than T cells. We found that peripheral blood IL-7Ralpha(bright) T cells that did not express FoxP3 were highly proliferative as compared with IL-7Ralpha(dim/-) T cells that did express high levels of FoxP3. Soluble hIL-7Ralpha inhibited IL-7-induced proliferation and interferon-gamma production by mononuclear cells from RA patients.


Our data suggest that enhanced expression of IL-7Ralpha and IL-7 in RA patients contributes significantly to the joint inflammation by activating T cells, B cells, and macrophages. The inhibition of IL-7R-mediated immune activation by soluble hIL-7Ralpha further indicates an important role of IL-7Ralpha in inflammatory responses in RA, suggesting IL-7Ralpha as a therapeutic target for immunotherapy in RA.

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