Background Intestinal microbiota have been associated with psoriatic and rheumatoid arthritis. One of the major effects of microbiota is the induction of mucosal T helper 17 (Th17) cells. We therefore reasoned that the efficiacy of Th17-targeted therapies in arthritis may depend on the host microbiota. Previous studies focused on the role of the cytokine interleukin-17A (IL-17), rather than Th17 cells, by using IL-17 inhibitors or IL-17-deficient mice. Therefore, the role of Th17 cells, which produce multiple pro-inflammatory mediators in addition to IL-17, is not yet fully understood.
Objectives The aim of this study was to determine the role of Th17 cells, beyond the cytokine IL-17, in arthritis, and to investigate whether Th17 cells are differentially involved in arthritis depending on the microbiota present.
Methods We established conditional Th17-deficient mice, which exhibit a CD4-Cre-induced floxing of a part of the Rorc allele that encodes the Th17 master regulator RORγt. We compared the development of collagen-induced arthritis in Th17-deficient (CD4-Cre+ Rorcflox/flox) and -sufficient (CD4-Cre- Rorcflox/flox) littermate mice, either colonized with known Th17 cell inducers segmented filamentous bacteria (SFB) or harboring the SFB-free Jackson microbiota. The abundance of Th1 and Th17 cells and the production of IL-17, IFNγ and GM-CSF were quantified by flow cytometry and multiplex cytokine assay.
Results CD4-Cre+ Rorcflox/flox mice had significantly lower Th17, but similar Th1 cell abundance, in intestinal lamina propria compared with Cre- littermate controls. Surprisingly, the total amount of IL-17A production by all lamina propria cells during arthritis was rather increased in Th17-deficient mice, with CD8+ T cells and Gr1+ neutrophils being the main alternative sources of IL-17. Despite this increased total IL-17 levels, conditional Th17-deficient mice developed a less severe arthritis compared with Th17-sufficient mice when intestinal microbiota comprised SFB. This suggests a role for Th17 cells in inflammatory arthritis distinct from IL-17. Accordingly, synovial inflammation, cartilage destruction and proteoglycan depletion were reduced in SFB-colonized Th17-deficient mice. While the production of IL-17 by joint-draining lymph node cells stimulated with PMA and ionomycin was similar between Th17-sufficient and –deficient mice, cells from the latter group produced significantly less IL-17 upon antigen-specific stimulation with type II collagen. Furthermore, the production of GM-CSF, another Th17 cell-derived cytokine, was significantly lower in the lymph nodes of Th17-deficient mice, an effect associated with the protection against arthritis. Importantly, substitution of the intestinal microbiota with SFB-free Jackson microbiota resulted in the loss of Th17 cell dependency of arthritis as Th17-sufficient and –deficient mice showed similar disease progression under this condition.
Conclusions These data suggest that Th17 cells may mediate inflammatory arthritis partly through IL-17-independent mechanisms. Our observations also suggest that the involvement of Th17 cells in arthritis depends on the microbiota subset present in the host. Therefore, a microbiome-guided stratification of rheumatoid or psoriatic arthritis patients might improve the efficacy of Th17 (or IL-17)-targeted therapies.
Disclosure of Interest None declared