Background/objectives Both germ-free condition and administration of oral antibiotics before the onset of arthritis modulate T cell differentiation and attenuate arthritis in mice. However, it is not known whether and how the modulation of intestinal microbiota after the onset of arthritis may influence the disease. Here, we investigated the involvement of commensal intestinal microbiota in the progression of established arthritis in both T cell-dependent and -independent mouse models.
Materials and methods Mice with established collagen-induced arthritis (CIA) as well as mice with K/BxN serum-transfer arthritis were treated orally with broad-spectrum antibiotics for one week to partially eliminate intestinal microbiota. 16S rRNA gene high-throughput sequencing was performed to assess the effect of arthritis and antibiotic treatment on the gut microbiota composition. Arthritis was assessed macroscopically and by histology. Differentiation of Th1, Th17 and regulatory T (Treg) cells and production of their prototypic cytokines in intestinal lamina propria and joint-draining lymph nodes were assessed by flow cytometry and Luminex cytokine array.
Results Induction of arthritis as such resulted in significant alterations in the gut microbiota. Antibiotic treatment of CIA mice eliminated the majority of the gut microbiota, while the microbiota composition of control mice remained relatively stable. Partial elimination of intestinal microbiota during ongoing CIA specifically suppressed intestinal Th17 cell differentiation without affecting Th1 and Treg cells. Accordingly, production of IL-17, but not IFNγ, IL-4 and IL-10, by lamina propria lymphocytes was significantly diminished in antibiotic-treated mice. Importantly, elimination of intestinal microbiota resulted in suppressed Th17 cell differentiation in joint-draining lymph nodes and reduced the severity of established CIA. In contrast, antibiotic treatment did not influence disease severity in the T cell-independent K/BxN serum-transfer arthritis. Intriguingly, the abundance of intestinal Th17 cells strongly correlated with the severity of arthritis in the CIA mice. However, elimination of intestinal microbiota after disease onset did not affect the development of anti-collagen type II auto-antibodies.
Conclusion These observations suggest that modulation of commensal intestinal microbiota during established arthritis specifically suppresses Th17 differentiation and dampens T cell-mediated arthritic processes. Our study supports the notion that inflammatory signals provided by the gut microbiota continue to promote arthritis after its onset.