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Rheumatology (Oxford). 2012 Jun;51(6):996-1005. doi: 10.1093/rheumatology/ker448. Epub 2012 Feb 1.

IL-7 drives Th1 and Th17 cytokine production in patients with primary SS despite an increase in CD4 T cells lacking the IL-7Rα.

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Department of Rheumatology and Clinical Immunology, University Medical Center Utrecht, P.O. Box 85500, 3508 GA Utrecht, The Netherlands.



To study the phenotypic characteristics of and the balance between systemic IL-7 receptor (IL-7R)α+ and IL-7Rα- Tregs in primary SS (pSS) patients as compared with control subjects and to assess the functional consequences this has for (IL-7-induced) T-cell activation.


The functional properties of IL-7Rα+ and IL-7Rα- (CD25+) CD4 T cells from pSS patients were tested in vitro. Expression of CD25 and FoxP3 by IL-7Rα+ and IL-7Rα- CD4 T cells from pSS patients and healthy controls (HCs) were assessed. Also, the net ex vivo T-cell cytokine production and the capacity of IL-7 to activate total CD4 T cells from pSS patients compared with HCs in vitro was tested.


IL-7Rα+ T cells from pSS patients strongly proliferated and their numbers were slightly reduced compared with HCs. This reduced number was caused by an increase in both anergic and suppressive IL-7Rα- CD25+ T cells expressing high levels of FoxP3, but also by increases in IL-7Rα- CD25- CD4 T cells that only moderately expressed FoxP3. This altered balance in IL-7Rα+ and IL-7Rα- CD4 T cells was accompanied by unchanged ex vivo Th1, Th2 and Th17 cytokine production of total CD4 T cells. Furthermore, the increased numbers of IL-7Rα- CD25+ T cells did not prevent specific IL-7-induced Th1 and Th17 cytokine production by IL-7Rα+ T cells.


IL-7Rα+ cells are highly proliferating cells that respond strongly to IL-7 despite an increased number of IL-7Rα- T cells that express FoxP3 and CD25. The recent finding that IL-7 and IL-7Rα+ T cells were both found to be increased in exocrine glands of pSS patients indicates that IL-7 could contribute to glandular inflammation by activation of IL-7Rα+ responder T cells despite the increased numbers of Tregs.

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