Presence of CD4+CD8+ double-positive T cells with very high interleukin-4 production potential in lesional skin of patients with systemic sclerosis

Authors


Abstract

Objective

Fibrotic skin changes in systemic sclerosis (SSc) are preceded by the appearance of an inflammatory infiltrate rich in T cells. Since no direct comparison with T cells in normal skin has been performed previously, this study was undertaken to functionally characterize T cells in the skin of patients with early active SSc and in normal skin.

Methods

We characterized coreceptor expression, T cell receptor (TCR) usage, cytokine production, and helper and cytolytic activity of T cell lines and clones established from skin biopsy specimens from 6 SSc patients and 4 healthy individuals. Immunofluorescence analysis of skin biopsy and peripheral blood samples was performed to confirm the presence of specific subsets in vivo.

Results

A distinct subset expressing both CD4 and CD8α/β coreceptors at high levels (double-positive [DP]) was present in T cell lines from SSc and normal skin. DP T cells actively transcribed both accessory molecules, exerted clonally distributed cytolytic and helper activity, and expressed TCR clonotypes distinct from those in CD4+ or CD8+ single-positive (SP) T cells. In SSc skin, DP T cells produced very high levels of interleukin-4 (IL-4) compared with CD4+ SP T cells. Furthermore, DP T cells were directly identified in SSc skin, thus providing evidence that they are a distinct subset in vivo.

Conclusion

The present findings show that T cells with the unusual CD4+CD8+ DP phenotype are present in the skin. Their very high level of IL-4 production in early active SSc may contribute to enhanced extracellular matrix deposition by fibroblasts.

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