Objective The role of mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) in experimental arthritis is undoubtedly conflicting. This study explored the effect of bone marrow-derived MSC in previously untested and pathogenetically different models of rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Methods MSC were tested both in an induced (adjuvant-induced) and a spontaneous (K/BxN) arthritis model. Arthritis was assessed clinically and histologically. The proliferation of splenocytes and fibroblast-like synoviocytes (FLS) in the presence of MSC was measured by radioactivity incorporation. Toll-like receptor (TLR) expression was measured by real-time PCR. T-regulatory cell (Treg) frequency, T-cell apoptosis and cytokine secretion were monitored by flow cytometry.
Results MSC, in vitro, strongly inhibited critical cell populations; splenocytes and FLS. In contrast, MSC proved ineffective in vivo, unless they were administered before disease onset, an effect implying that the inflammatory arthritic milieu potentially abrogates MSC immunomodulatory properties. In order to alleviate inflammation before MSC infusion, the authors administered, at arthritis onset, a short course with a proteasome inhibitor, bortezomib, whereas MSC were infused when established disease was expected. The bortezomib plus MSC group demonstrated a significantly decreased arthritis score over arthritic, MSC-only, bortezomib-only groups, also confirmed by histology and immunohistochemistry. The bortezomib plus MSC combination restored TLR expression and Treg frequency in blood and normalised FLS and splenocyte proliferation, apoptosis and cytokine secretion.
Conclusion MSC lose their immunomodulatory properties when infused in the inflammatory micromilieu of autoimmune arthritis. Conditioning of the recipient with bortezomib alters the disease microenvironment enabling MSC to modulate arthritis. Should milieu limitations also operate in human disease, this approach could serve as a strategy to treat RA by MSC.
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Funding Institutional funding was provided by G. Papanicolaou Hospital.
Competing interests None.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.