Arthritis research & therapy

A polymorphism in the interleukin-4 receptor affects the ability of interleukin-4 to regulate Th17 cells: a possible immunoregulatory mechanism for genetic control of the severity of rheumatoid arthritis.

PMID 21294892


Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is now suspected to be driven by pathogenic Th17 cells that secrete interleukin (IL)-17 and can be regulated by IL-4. A single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP), I50V, in the coding region of the human IL-4 receptor (IL-4R) is associated with rapid development of erosive disease in RA. The present study was undertaken to determine whether this SNP renders the IL-4R less able to transduce signals that regulate IL-17 production. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells were activated under Th17-stimulating conditions in the presence or absence of IL-4, and IL-17 production was measured by both enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and flow cytometry. Serum IL-17 was also measured by ELISA. Paired comparisons were performed using the two-tailed t-test. IL-4 receptor gene alleles were determined by polymerase chain reaction. In healthy individuals, IL-4 significantly inhibited IL-17 production by cells from subjects with the I/I genotype (P = 0.0079) and the I/V genotype (P = 0.013), but not the V/V genotype (P > 0.05). In a cross-sectional sample of patients with established RA, the magnitude of the in vitro effect of IL-4 was lower and was not associated with a specific IL-4R allele. Serum IL-17 levels were higher in RA patients than in healthy individuals, as was the percentage of CD4+ cells that produced IL-17. These results indicate that an inherited polymorphism of the IL-4R controls the ability of the human immune system to regulate the magnitude of IL-17 production. However, in established RA, this pattern may be altered, possibly due to secondary effects of both RA itself as well as immunomodulatory medications. Ineffective control of Th17 immune responses is a potential mechanism to explain why IL-4R is an important severity gene in RA, but this issue will require careful study of a cohort of new-onset RA patients.