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Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. MATERIALS AND METHODS
  4. RESULTS
  5. DISCUSSION
  6. AUTHOR CONTRIBUTIONS
  7. AUTHOR CONTRIBUTIONS
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. REFERENCES

Objective

To determine whether HLA–B27 misfolding and the unfolded protein response (UPR) result in cytokine dysregulation and whether this is associated with Th1 and/or Th17 activation in HLA–B27/human β2-microglobulin (Huβ2m)–transgenic rats, an animal model of spondylarthritis.

Methods

Cytokine expression in lipopolysaccharide (LPS)–stimulated macrophages was analyzed in the presence and absence of a UPR induced by chemical agents or by HLA–B27 up-regulation. Cytokine expression in colon tissue and in cells purified from the lamina propria was determined by real-time reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction analysis, and differences in Th1 and Th17 CD4+ T cell populations were quantified after intracellular cytokine staining.

Results

Interleukin-23 (IL-23) was found to be synergistically up-regulated by LPS in macrophages undergoing a UPR induced by pharmacologic agents or by HLA–B27 misfolding. IL-23 was also increased in the colon tissue from B27/Huβ2m-transgenic rats concurrently with the development of intestinal inflammation, and IL-17, a downstream target of IL-23, exhibited robust up-regulation in a similar temporal pattern. IL-23 and IL-17 transcripts were localized to CD11+ antigen-presenting cells and CD4+ T cells, respectively, from the colonic lamina propria. Colitis was associated with a 6-fold expansion of CD4+ IL-17–expressing T cells.

Conclusion

The IL-23/IL-17 axis is strongly activated in the colon of B27/Huβ2m-transgenic rats with spondylarthritis-like disease. HLA–B27 misfolding and UPR activation in macrophages can result in enhanced induction of the pro-Th17 cytokine IL-23. These results suggest a possible link between HLA–B27 misfolding and immune dysregulation in this animal model, with implications for human disease.

Spondylarthritides encompass a group of heterogeneous immune-mediated inflammatory diseases with overlapping clinical manifestations that can include gastrointestinal inflammation, axial and peripheral arthritis, and uveitis. Although these are complex genetic diseases and the susceptibility genes are likely to vary, many are strongly linked to HLA–B27, a class I major histocompatibility complex (MHC)–encoded allele.

Expression of HLA–B27 and human β2-microglobulin (Huβ2m) in rats (B27/Huβ2m-transgenic rats) results in an inflammatory disease that resembles spondylarthritides in humans (1), thus providing a model by which to investigate the role of this allele (2). CD4+ T cells have been implicated in the pathogenesis of disease in rats, and overexpression of interferon-γ (IFNγ), tumor necrosis factor α (TNFα), and the p40 subunit of interleukin-12 (IL-12p40) in the gastrointestinal tract has suggested that colitis is predominantly a Th1-mediated process (1). Furthermore, elimination of CD8α/β T cells does not prevent disease (3), suggesting that canonical recognition of B27–peptide complexes is not necessary. Despite progress in defining the cellular requirements for disease, upstream events responsible for pathogenesis and, in particular, the relationship between HLA–B27 and pathogenic CD4+ T cells remain unclear.

The propensity of HLA–B27 to misfold (4, 5) has been associated with disease in transgenic rats (6). Up-regulation of B27 in rat macrophages enhances the accumulation of misfolded heavy chains, resulting in endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress and activation of the unfolded protein response (UPR) (7, 8). The UPR maintains ER homeostasis, initially by dampening the flux of protein into this organelle, and then by expanding its capacity to fold, secrete, and/or degrade protein (9). However, depending on the magnitude and duration of ER stress and the type of cell that is affected, the UPR can result in apoptosis. The UPR has been implicated in the pathogenesis of a number of protein misfolding diseases, in part through cell death. We recently found that X-box binding protein 1 (XBP-1), a transcription factor induced by UPR activation, mediates synergistic type I IFN induction in cells exposed to certain pattern-recognition receptor (PRR) agonists (“UPR–PRR synergy”) (10), and there is increasing recognition that the UPR plays a role in immune modulation, with potential links to inflammatory disease pathogenesis (11).

Here, we report that IL-23p19 is an additional target gene of UPR–PRR synergy. The active IL-23 cytokine is composed of 2 subunits, IL-23p19 and IL-12/23p40, and plays a key role in driving memory CD4+ T cells (Th17) to produce proinflammatory cytokines, including IL-17 (12). This prompted further examination of colitis in B27/Huβ2m-transgenic rats, where we found a striking up-regulation of IL-17 and expansion of IL-17–producing CD4+ T cells. Taken together, these results demonstrate activation of the IL-23/IL-17 axis in an HLA–B27–mediated disease model and suggest a novel paradigm that links protein misfolding, ER stress, and UPR activation with inflammatory disease.

MATERIALS AND METHODS

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. MATERIALS AND METHODS
  4. RESULTS
  5. DISCUSSION
  6. AUTHOR CONTRIBUTIONS
  7. AUTHOR CONTRIBUTIONS
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. REFERENCES

Animals.

Wild-type (WT) C57BL/6 mice (The Jackson Laboratory, Bar Harbor, ME) were housed in the barrier facility at Cincinnati Children's Research Foundation (CCRF). HLA–B*2705/Huβ2m–transgenic rats on the F344 background (33-3 line) (1) and WT control F344 rats were purchased from Taconic (Germantown, NY) and were housed in the conventional animal facility at CCRF. All B27/Huβ2m-transgenic rats were hemizygous for the 33-3 locus, which contains 55 copies of the B27 transgene and 66 copies of the Huβ2m transgene. Both transgenes are genomic clones and contain promoter regions that enable regulation by IFNs. All experiments were performed in accordance with protocols approved by the CCRF Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee.

Reagents.

L929 cells (CCL1; American Type Culture Collection, Manassas, VA) were used to prepare cell culture supernatants (containing macrophage colony-stimulating factor [M-CSF]). Thapsigargin (TPG) and Salmonella enteritidis lipopolysaccharide (LPS; Sigma-Aldrich, St. Louis, MO) were used at final concentrations of 1 μM and 10 ng/ml, respectively. Recombinant rat IFNγ (R&D Systems, Minneapolis, MN) was used at a concentration of 100 units/ml.

Culture of bone marrow (BM)–derived macrophages and preparation of RNA.

Mouse BM-derived macrophages were obtained using CMG14-12–conditioned medium (provided by D. Williams, Children's Hospital, Boston, MA) containing M-CSF (10), and rat BM-derived macrophages were generated using conditioned medium from L929 cells as described previously (7). Mature macrophages were plated at a density of 3–5 × 106/well in 12-well plates for the experiments. For RNA isolation, TRIzol reagent (Invitrogen, Carlsbad, CA) was added directly to the cells, followed by extraction of RNA.

Quantitative real-time reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and semiquantitative RT-PCR.

Total RNA was reverse transcribed using oligo(dT) primers and the SuperScript One-Step RT-PCR system (Invitrogen). Real-time PCR was performed using SYBR Green I and an iCycler system (Bio-Rad, Hercules, CA). For all samples, target gene expression was normalized to β-actin. XBP-1 splicing was determined on reverse-transcribed messenger RNA (mRNA) samples by amplifying across the region of XBP-1 containing the splice site, separating the PCR products on 4% agarose gels (Cambrex Bioscience, Rockland, ME), and measuring the relative amounts of unspliced and spliced complementary DNA using a PhosphorImager and ImageQuant software (both from Amersham Biosciences, Piscataway, NJ). XBP-1 splicing was expressed as the percentage of the total PCR product that was spliced (7). Oligonucleotide primer sequences are available upon request from the corresponding author.

Colon tissue isolation and fractionation.

Colon tissue was obtained from cohorts of WT and B27/Huβ2m-transgenic rats at the times indicated. The colon was dissected free of connective tissue, washed in sterile phosphate buffered saline, and transected longitudinally to remove fecal matter. Samples were then used immediately for isolation of lamina propria cells or were stored overnight in RNAlater (Ambion, Austin, TX) at 4°C prior to lysis in TRIzol reagent for RNA isolation.

To isolate lamina propria cells, colon sections were placed in sterile CMF medium (Ca2+/Mg2+-free Hanks' balanced salt solution [HBSS], HEPES/bicarbonate buffer, and 2% fetal calf serum [FCS]) (13). Tissue was then cut into 0.5-cm sections and placed into fresh CMF medium at 4°C. Samples were washed with multiple rounds of inversion in fresh CMF medium until the supernatants were clear. Tissue was then vortexed for 15 seconds in fresh CMF/FCS/EDTA medium (CMF medium containing 10% FCS, 5 mM EDTA, and 100 mg/ml of gentamicin). Supernatants were removed, and the remaining tissue was subjected to multiple additional rounds of vortexing in fresh medium until the supernatants were clear.

The tissue that remained after vortexing was placed into 60 ml of complete RPMI 1640 medium supplemented with 10% FCS, 300 units/ml of collagenase (Sigma-Aldrich), and 0.25 mg/ml of type II-O trypsin inhibitor (Sigma-Aldrich). After shaking the tissue samples at 250 revolutions per minute for 2 hours at 37°C, the supernatant was filtered through a cell strainer, and cells were collected by centrifugation. Cells were then either lysed in TRIzol reagent for RNA isolation (lamina propria fraction) or used for purification of lamina propria leukocyte subsets by fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS) using a FACSVantage SE Cell Sorter (BD Biosciences, San Jose, CA). For purification of lamina propria leukocyte subsets by FACS, cells were stained with the following monoclonal antibodies: allophycocyanin (APC)–conjugated OX35 (anti-CD4; BD Biosciences), phycoerythrin (PE)–conjugated OX42 (anti-CD11b/c; BD Biosciences), and biotinylated R73 (anti– T cell receptor α/β [anti-TCRα/β]; BioLegend, San Diego, CA). A streptavidin–PE-Cy7–conjugated secondary antibody (BioLegend) was used to label biotinylated R73. Sorted cells were then lysed in TRIzol reagent for RNA isolation.

Intracellular cytokine staining.

Lymphocytes were isolated from lamina propria cell suspensions on discontinuous Percoll gradients of 75% and 40% by centrifugation at 600g for 20 minutes at room temperature. The interface between the layers was collected and washed with HBSS supplemented with 5% FCS and resuspended for counting. Cells were then stimulated for 6 hours at 37°C with 200 μg/ml of phorbol myristate acetate (PMA; EMD Biosciences, Gibbstown, NJ) and 10 mM ionomycin (EMD Bioscience) in the presence of 10 mg/ml of brefeldin A (Sigma-Aldrich). For flow cytometry, the following antibodies were used (all from BD Biosciences and used according the manufacturer's protocols): CD4 peridinin chlorophyll A protein (PerCP)–labeled CD4, APC-labeled CD3, PE-labeled IFNγ, and PE-labeled IL-17 (an anti-mouse IL-17 antibody that cross-reacts with rat IL-17). Labeled cells were analyzed using a FACSCalibur instrument with CellQuest Pro software (both from BD Biosciences).

Statistical analysis.

Statistical analysis was performed using Student's t-test. P values less than 0.05 were considered significant. For ratios, the mean and 95% confidence intervals (95% CIs) are shown.

RESULTS

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. MATERIALS AND METHODS
  4. RESULTS
  5. DISCUSSION
  6. AUTHOR CONTRIBUTIONS
  7. AUTHOR CONTRIBUTIONS
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. REFERENCES

Synergistic induction of IL-23 by LPS during UPR activation.

In a previous study, we found that IFNβ is synergistically up-regulated by certain PRR agonists (via Toll-like receptor 4 [TLR-4], TLR-3, and melanoma differentiation–associated protein 5 [MDA-5]) in macrophages undergoing a UPR (10). To identify similarly affected transcripts, we performed a microarray analysis of mouse BM-derived macrophages that had been pretreated with TPG for 1 hour, followed by LPS treatment for an additional 3 hours. TPG is known to inhibit Ca2+ ATPase activity in the ER, causing Ca2+ depletion and impaired protein folding, which results in ER stress and robust UPR activation. LPS induced a number of cytokine transcripts that were minimally affected by TPG alone, and TPG induced a classic ER stress response. In addition, LPS treatment of TPG-primed cells resulted in dramatic synergistic up-regulation of IL-23p19 as well as IFNβ mRNA. There was a 4–5-fold higher induction of TNFα with the combination of LPS and TPG, whereas most other cytokines were not differentially affected (ref.10 and DeLay ML, et al: unpublished observations).

We confirmed and quantified the synergistic induction of IL-23p19 by LPS in cells undergoing a UPR by using rat BM-derived macrophages and real-time RT-PCR. The combination of ER stress and LPS resulted in a striking increase in IL-23p19 transcripts as compared with LPS alone (∼20-fold) or with TPG alone (Figure 1A). UPR activation in TPG-treated cells was documented by the up-regulation of BiP transcripts and activation of XBP-1 splicing (Figure 1A). LPS alone had no effect on BiP expression or XBP-1 splicing, but in TPG-treated cells, it appeared to slightly exacerbate the UPR (Figure 1A). We also found synergistic up-regulation of IL-12p35 transcripts in rat macrophages over LPS alone (∼10-fold) and a modest increase (∼2-fold) in IL-12/23p40 mRNA (Figure 1A).

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Figure 1. Augmentation of lipopolysaccharide (LPS)–stimulated interleukin-23 (IL-23) production by macrophages following activation of the unfolded protein response (UPR). A, The UPR was induced in bone marrow (BM)–derived macrophages from wild-type (WT) rats by incubation with 1 μM thapsigargin (TPG) for 4 hours, with or without 10 ng/ml of LPS for the final 3 hours. Relative expression of BiP, IL-23p19, IL-12p35, and IL-12/23p40 mRNA was quantified by real-time reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) analysis; results were normalized to β-actin. Percentage X-box binding protein 1 (XBP-1) splicing was determined by electrophoresis of RT-PCR products. Representative images of unspliced (XBP-1u) and spliced (XBP-1s) XBP-1 PCR products are also shown. B, The UPR was induced in mouse BM-derived macrophages by incubation with 1 μM TPG for 2 hours. This was followed by a 7-hour washout period, after which cells were left untreated or were treated with 10 ng/ml of LPS for 24 hours. Supernatants were then collected, and levels of IL-12 and IL-23 were measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Values are the mean and SEM of triplicate biologic samples and are representative of at least 3 separate experiments. = P < 0.05 for TPG versus no treatment and for TPG plus LPS versus LPS alone (A), as well as for TPG plus LPS versus LPS alone and versus TPG alone (B). ND = not detected.

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To determine whether stressed macrophages produce more IL-23 and/or IL-12, cells were pulsed with TPG, allowed to recover, and then left unstimulated or were stimulated with LPS for 24 hours. These experiments were performed using mouse macrophages since no antibodies for measuring rat IL-23 are available, and the anti-mouse IL-23 antibodies we have tested do not cross-react. We found a striking increase in IL-23 in the supernatants of LPS-stimulated cells that had previously been pulsed with TPG (∼10-fold) as compared with either LPS or TPG alone (Figure 1B). Stressed macrophages also produced more IL-12, but the amount was much lower and just above the limit of detection (30 pg/ml) (Figure 1B). Similar results were obtained after pulsing cells with tunicamycin, which causes UPR activation by inhibiting glycosylation of nascent ER proteins (DeLay ML, et al: unpublished observations). The similar effects of these diverse agents show that generalized ER stress increases the production of IL-23 induced by a TLR-4 agonist.

IL-23p19 expression in B27/Huβ2m-transgenic rat macrophages.

To determine whether HLA–B27 misfolding can augment LPS-induced IL-23p19 expression, we examined BM-derived macrophages. Cells were first incubated in the presence or absence of IFNγ to up-regulate class I MHC expression, followed by incubation with LPS. HLA–B27 up-regulation exacerbates misfolding and activates the UPR in rat macrophages (7, 8, 10), as evidenced in the present study by the induction of BiP and the increased XBP-1 mRNA splicing (Figure 2A). This was accompanied by a several-fold increase in IL-23p19 induction by LPS in B27/Huβ2m-transgenic rat macrophages compared with WT cells (Figure 2B, right). In contrast, IL-12p35 and IL-12/23p40 induction appeared to be minimally affected by HLA–B27 up-regulation.

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Figure 2. Augmented LPS-induced IL-23p19 expression in the presence of a UPR in HLA–B27/human β2-microglobulin (Huβ2m)–transgenic rat macrophages. BM-derived macrophages from WT and B27/Huβ2m-transgenic (B27) rats were left untreated or were treated with 100 units/ml of recombinant rat interferon-γ (IFNγ) for 20 hours prior to stimulation with LPS for indicated times. Expression of RNA for the indicated targets was quantified by real-time RT-PCR analysis; results were normalized to β-actin. XBP-1 splicing was determined by electrophoresis of RT-PCR products. A, Relative expression of HLA–B (HLAB) and BiP and percentage of spliced XBP-1 mRNA. B, Relative expression of IL-23p19, IL-12p35, and IL-12/23p40 mRNA in BM-derived macrophages from both groups of rats. Values are the mean and SEM of triplicate biologic samples and are representative of at least 5 separate experiments. = P < 0.05 versus WT rats. See Figure 1 for other definitions.

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While IFNγ priming has been shown to result in an increase in LPS-induced IL-12p35 and IL-12/23p40 (14), it had little effect on IL-23p19, at least in WT cells (Figure 2B). Interestingly, LPS exacerbated UPR activation in IFNγ-treated HLA–B27–expressing macrophages (Figure 2A, right) and actually caused low-level BiP up-regulation and XBP-1 splicing in the absence of IFNγ after 3–4 hours of exposure (Figure 2A, left). The induction of IL-6, TNFα, and IFNγ mRNA was no different in HLA–B27–expressing macrophages (DeLay ML, et al: unpublished observations). Taken together, these results suggest that ER stress caused by HLA–B27 misfolding is sufficient to augment the induction of IL-23p19.

Activation of the IL-23/IL-17 axis in the colon of the B27/Huβ2m-transgenic rat.

Based on the observation that HLA–B27–expressing macrophages undergoing a UPR can become polarized to overexpress IL-23, we were interested in determining the relative expression of this and related cytokines in the colon. B27/Huβ2m-transgenic rats (33-3 transgene locus) develop colitis shortly after weaning at 4 weeks of age, so we compared colon tissue from cohorts of transgenic and WT rats at 2-week intervals from ages 2 weeks to 12 weeks.

Histologic evidence of colitis was first apparent at 6 weeks of age (Figure 3A), with an epithelial growth response and some loss of goblet cells, followed by progressive mononuclear cell infiltration of the mucosal and submucosal layers. This was coincident with an increased expression of HLA–B27 and the UPR marker BiP. IL-23p19 transcripts were also elevated at 6 weeks, paralleling the earliest histologic changes, with persistent elevations seen after 10 weeks (Figure 3B). Expression of IL-12/23p40 paralleled those of IL-23p19, whereas IL-12p35 expression was similar in WT and transgenic rats until 8–10 weeks, when expression in B27/Huβ2m-transgenic animals dropped off (Figure 3B). The increase in IL-23p19 was associated with a striking and persistent increase in IL-17 transcripts as well as a smaller elevation of IFNγ (Figure 3C). We confirmed the increases in TNFα, IL-1, and IL-6 and the lack of change in TGFβ, as reported previously by other investigators (1). These data demonstrate activation of the IL-23/IL-17 axis in parallel with the development of inflammation in the colon of B27/Huβ2m-transgenic rats; in addition, they confirm previous evidence of an apparent Th1 response.

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Figure 3. Correlation of the IL-23/IL-17 axis activation with the onset and progression of disease in rat colon tissues. Histologic assessment was performed, and RNA was isolated from colon tissue obtained from WT and HLA–B27/human β2-microglobulin (Huβ2m)–transgenic (B27) rats at ages 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, and 12 weeks. Transcript levels were analyzed by real-time RT-PCR; results were normalized to β-actin. A, Histology scores and relative expression of HLA–B27 and BiP mRNA in colon tissue. B, Relative expression of IL-23p19, IL-12p35, and IL-12/23p40 mRNA in colon tissue. C, Relative expression of IL-17 and interferon-γ (IFNγ) mRNA in colon tissue. Values are the mean and SEM of duplicate samples from 3 rats per group. = P < 0.05 versus WT rats. See Figure 1 for other definitions.

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Cellular localization of Th17 and Th1 cytokines in B27/Huβ2m-transgenic rat colon.

To further explore the cellular sources of cytokines, we performed a preliminary experiment in which colon tissue from B27/Huβ2m-transgenic rats with active colitis and from WT controls was fractionated into intestinal epithelial cells, intraepithelial lymphocytes, and lamina propria cells. The majority of IL-17 mRNA was found in lamina propria cells, where transcripts were ∼200-fold greater in cells from B27/Huβ2m-transgenic animals (DeLay ML, et al: unpublished observations).

We then examined different leukocyte subpopulations from the lamina propria. Briefly, cells stained with antibodies against CD4, TCRα/β, and CD11b/c (CD11) were separated according to forward and side light-scatter patterns into populations enriched for antigen-presenting cells (containing macrophages and dendritic cells) and for lymphocytes. The majority of cells in the lymphocyte population were TCRα/β+, while a smaller proportion in the antigen-presenting cell–enriched population was CD11+ (Figure 4A).

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Figure 4. Localization of interleukin-17 (IL-17) expression to CD4+TCRα/β+ cells in the lamina propria of HLA–B27/human β2-microglobulin (Huβ2m)–transgenic rat colon. Lamina propria cells were isolated from wild-type (WT) and B27/Huβ2m-transgenic (B27) rat colon samples and were further subdivided by fluorescence-activated cell sorting using antibodies against the indicated antigens. RNA was isolated from the sorted populations and analyzed by real-time reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction to quantify transcript levels. A, Populations designated antigen-presenting cells (APCs) and lymphocytes were identified based on forward and side light-scatter characteristics. These populations were subdivided according to cell surface staining for the indicated antigens. Percentages of the total population in each group of rats are shown at the right. B–D, Relative expression of transcripts for BiP (B), IL-23p19, IL-12/23p40, and IL-12p35 (C), and IL-17 (D) were determined, comparing populations of either CD11+ cells or CD4+TCRα/β+ cells from WT and B27/Huβ2m-transgenic rats. Values are the mean and SEM of 2–3 samples per group.

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Lamina propria cells from the lymphocyte gate were then sorted into 3 fractions based on CD4 and TCR staining (Figure 4A). There was a 6-fold expansion of CD4+TCRα/β+ T cells (5.5% versus 0.9% of total) in the lamina propria of B27/Huβ2m-transgenic compared with WT rats (Figure 4A, right). Lamina propria cells from the antigen-presenting cell–enriched gate were sorted into CD11+ and CD11– fractions (Figure 4A). There was an ∼4-fold expansion of CD11+ cells in colon tissue from B27/Huβ2m-transgenic mice compared with WT mice, but little difference in the CD11– population.

Using these lamina propria–derived leukocyte populations, we sought evidence of UPR activation by quantifying the expression of mRNA for BiP (Figure 4B). BiP transcripts were elevated ∼2.5-fold in CD11+ cells from B27/Huβ2m-transgenic rats, whereas BiP expression in CD4+ T cells was unchanged (Figure 4B), findings consistent with cell type specificity of UPR activation (8).

The majority of IL-12 and IL-23 subunit mRNA transcripts were found in the CD11+ fraction (DeLay ML, et al: unpublished observations), where IL-23p19, IL-12p35, and IL-12/23p40 mRNA were more highly expressed in CD11+ cells from B27/Huβ2m-transgenic rats (Figure 4C). The greatest difference was seen for IL-23p19 (19-fold), whereas IL-12/23p40 and IL-12p35 transcripts were increased ∼2.5-fold and ∼5-fold, respectively, over those in the WT controls (Figure 4C).

The vast majority of IL-17 transcripts were in the CD4+ T cell fraction. Although we did not specifically isolate CD8+ or γ/δ T cells or neutrophils, which can express IL-17 (15, 16), the fractions expected to contain these cell types (i.e., CD4–TCRα/β+ or CD11+) expressed at least 10-fold lower levels of IL-17 mRNA than did the CD4+ T cells (DeLay ML, et al: unpublished observations). Comparing genotypes, IL-17 transcripts were 20 times higher in CD4+ T cells from B27/Huβ2m-transgenic rats compared with WT controls (Figure 4D), suggesting Th17 activation.

Expansion of Th17 cells in B27/Huβ2m-transgenic rat colon tissue.

To determine whether Th17 expansion contributes to the large increase in IL-17 transcripts in B27/Huβ2m-transgenic rats, we performed intracellular cytokine staining. Lamina propria lymphocytes were isolated from the colon of B27/Huβ2m-transgenic rats with active colitis and from WT controls and were stained for CD3, CD4, IL-17, and IFNγ. After gating on CD3+ cells, we examined IL-17 and IFNγ expression in CD4+ cells. This revealed a striking increase in CD4+IL-17+ (Th17) cells (Figure 5A) and a smaller increase in CD4+IFNγ+ Th1 cells (Figure 5B) in B27/Huβ2m-transgenic rats as compared with WT controls. Figure 5C shows the mean data from 3 independent experiments in which Th17 cells were expanded 6.3-fold (95% CI 3.2–9.4) and Th1 cells were expanded 3.4-fold (95% CI 2.1–4.7) in B27/Huβ2m-transgenic rats.

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Figure 5. Expansion of CD4+ T cells expressing interleukin-17 (IL-17) in colonic lamina propria cells from HLA–B27/human β2-microglobulin (Huβ2m)–transgenic rats. Lamina propria lymphocytes were isolated from wild-type (WT) and B27/Huβ2m-transgenic (B27) rat colon samples on a Percoll gradient. Cells were analyzed for cell surface antigen and intracellular cytokines (IL-17 and interferon-γ [IFNγ]) by fluorescence-activated cell sorting. Cells were gated on CD3+ and compared for cytokine production. A, Percentages of CD4+IL-17+ and CD4–IL-17+ cells in WT and B27/Huβ2m-transgenic rats. B, Percentages of CD4+IFNγ+ and CD4–IFNγ+ cells in WT and B27/Huβ2m-transgenic rats. C, Average fold change in the percentages of IL-17–expressing and IFNγ-expressing CD4+ T cell populations in B27/Huβ2m-transgenic rats and WT rats. Th17 cells were increased ∼6.3-fold (95% confidence interval 3.2–9.4) and Th1 cells were increased ∼3.4-fold (95% confidence interval 2.1–4.7) in B27/Huβ2m-transgenic rats. Values are the mean and SEM of at least 2 rats per genotype and are representative of 3 separate experiments.

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DISCUSSION

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. MATERIALS AND METHODS
  4. RESULTS
  5. DISCUSSION
  6. AUTHOR CONTRIBUTIONS
  7. AUTHOR CONTRIBUTIONS
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. REFERENCES

HLA–B27/Huβ2m-transgenic rats exhibit striking Th17 expansion and activation in the colon that is temporally related to the development of colitis. At the cellular level, macrophages undergoing a UPR induced by HLA–B27 misfolding or by exposure to pharmacologic inducers of ER stress are polarized to produce more IL-23 in response to LPS. Taken together, these data suggest that the IL-23/IL-17 axis may play a role in the pathogenesis of spondylarthritis-like disease in B27/Huβ2m-transgenic rats, and they demonstrate a potential link between HLA–B27 misfolding and immune dysregulation.

In recent years, the IL-23/IL-17 axis and CD4+ Th17 cells have gained widespread attention for their role in immune-mediated inflammatory diseases in rodent models (17–20) as well as in several human diseases, including inflammatory bowel disease (21). IL-17 is also overexpressed in patients with HLA–B27–associated spondylarthritides (22–24), and polymorphisms in the IL-23 receptor gene are associated with susceptibility to ankylosing spondylitis (25, 26). These findings provide strong support for the involvement of the IL-23/IL-17 axis in human spondylarthritis as well as in the rat model.

Th17 cells are important regulators of intestinal homeostasis and are present in healthy lamina propria at much higher frequency than in peripheral tissues (27). They also have the capacity to become pathogenic under the influence of increased local expression of IL-23 (28–30). The increase in IL-23 subunit expression found in the colon of B27/Huβ2m-transgenic rats occurred at least as early as the increase in IL-17 (6 weeks) (Figure 3C). We also found increased expression of IFNγ in the colon (Figure 3) and evidence of Th1 expansion and activation (Figure 5). These early changes either precede or are coincident with the development of diarrhea, which typically begins between 6 and 9 weeks of age.

IFNγ overexpression, along with increases in IL-1α, IL-1β, TNFα, IL-6, macrophage inflammatory protein 2, and inducible nitric oxide synthase, has been demonstrated previously (1, 31–33). These data have been interpreted in support of colitis being a Th1-mediated process. However, this type of cytokine profile (i.e., IL-17 in addition to IFNγ, TNFα, IL-6, and IL-1β) is also seen in mouse models of inflammatory bowel disease shown to be driven by IL-23 (16). Our studies demonstrate that colitis in B27/Huβ2m-transgenic rats is associated with prominent Th17 expansion and activation and are consistent with the idea that it could be driven by excessive local production of IL-23 in the lamina propria. In support of this, the striking inflammatory phenotype of IL-23p19–transgenic mice includes gastrointestinal inflammation (17).

The extent to which IL-17 mediates intestinal inflammation in animal models remains unclear. In IL-10–deficient mice, IL-17 blockade is effective in the suppression of intestinal inflammation only if IL-6 is also neutralized (20), and in other T cell–dependent inflammatory bowel disease models, inhibition of Th1 responses attenuates disease (16). In uveitis and encephalomyelitis, both Th1 and Th17 cells mediate the pathology (34, 35). In B27/Huβ2m-transgenic rats, IL-10 administration reduced IFNγ, IL-1β, and TNFα expression in the colon without affecting the severity of colitis (32), which is consistent with the idea that other cytokines, such as IL-17, may be important. In addition, Th17 cells can secrete IL-22 and IL-21, which may contribute to their pathogenicity (12, 36). Thus, while IL-17 is proinflammatory and is clearly responsible for the pathology in some animal models of inflammatory bowel disease (16), we do not at this time know its relative importance in the context of other proinflammatory cytokines in B27/Huβ2m-transgenic rats.

Interestingly, IFNγ is an antagonist of Th17 development in mice (37, 38), and genetic ablation of the IFNγ gene results in Th17 expansion and exacerbates several types of Th17-mediated immunopathology (39). However, in humans with psoriasis, IFNγ has been shown to induce Th17 T cells, in part through enhancement of IL-23 expression, and to promote their trafficking and function (40). In B27/Huβ2m-transgenic rats but not WT rats, our data suggest that IFNγ promotes IL-23 expression via HLA–B27–induced ER stress and UPR activation. In addition, preliminary studies suggested that a subset of Th17+CD4+ T cells in the colon of B27/Huβ2m-transgenic rats also expresses IFNγ (DeLay ML, et al: unpublished observations), which is consistent with evidence for IL-17/IFNγ double-positive T cells in humans (41). It will be important to further explore the balance and interplay between Th17 and Th1 T cells and cytokines in mediating inflammation in B27/Huβ2m-transgenic rats.

The findings presented here are consistent with a model where HLA–B27 misfolding might promote a chronic inflammatory process such as colitis. Colonization of the gastrointestinal tract with commensal organisms results in a low-level immune response that includes IFNγ production (42), which is normally controlled (43). However, in B27/Huβ2m-transgenic rats, IFNγ could have a paradoxical effect by increasing HLA–B27 expression and generating ER stress, thus superimposing the UPR on macrophage activation. Macrophages may then become sensitized to pathogen-associated molecular patterns such as LPS that signal through PRRs including the TLRs (Figure 6). Increased expression of IL-23 in response to microbial products would activate CD4+ Th17 cells to produce IL-17, leading to tissue-specific inflammation and damage. Production of IFNγ by Th1 and Th17 T cells could perpetuate HLA–B27 misfolding and UPR activation (Figure 6), particularly in the presence of other cytokines, such as TNFα, that synergize with IFNs to increase class I expression. IFNγ also primes antigen-presenting cells to produce more IL-12 (14). Consistent with this possibility, we found up-regulation of IL-12 subunits (p35 and p40) in antigen-presenting cells isolated from the lamina propria (Figure 4). While there appeared to be a shift in the Th17/Th1 balance associated with UPR activation and increased IL-23 expression, there was still considerable Th1 activation, which may play an important role in the inflammatory disease.

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Figure 6. Proposed mechanism linking activation of the unfolded protein response (UPR) as a consequence of HLA–B27 misfolding to activation of the interleukin-23 (IL-23)/IL-17 axis. HLA–B27 up-regulation may occur initially as a result of stimulation by antigen-presenting cells with Toll-like receptor (TLR) agonists from commensal microorganisms and/or low-level interferon-γ (IFNγ) production from innate immune cells, such as natural killer cells. UPR activation is superimposed on macrophage (Mϕ) activation because of HLA–B27 misfolding, resulting in greater IL-23 production in response to TLR agonists. This, in turn, stimulates Th17 cells to produce IL-17. Th1 activation and/or double-positive IL-17/IFNγ–producing cells may help to sustain HLA–B27 expression, thus perpetuating this cycle. TNFα = tumor necrosis factor α.

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There are several other hypotheses to explain the role of HLA–B27 in disease (for review, see ref.44). Evidence that CD8α/β T cells are not required for spondylarthritis-like disease in rats argues against antigen presentation as an initiating event (3). Dendritic cell dysfunction that could reduce tolerance to microbial flora has been reported (45), and cell surface dimers of HLA–B27 heavy chains have been hypothesized to modulate the immune response and lead to inflammation (46). Our studies do not rule out the involvement of alternative mechanisms, and it is conceivable that more than one mechanism is responsible.

The rats used for our studies did not develop arthritis, consistent with previous observations that this component of the inflammatory phenotype is rare in younger animals, particularly on the F344 background (ref.1 and DeLay ML, et al: unpublished observations). In future studies, it will be important to examine the IL-23/IL-17 axis in arthritis, including the spondylitis phenotype that occurs when additional Huβ2m is expressed in B27/Huβ2m-transgenic rats (47). Overexpression of additional Huβ2m has been reported to curb HLA–B27 misfolding and to cause a small reduction in BiP mRNA levels in splenocytes (47). However, those studies did not examine macrophages or the response to HLA–B27 up-regulation, which is important for maximal UPR activation (7, 8).

Our results suggest a novel mechanism linking HLA–B27 misfolding and the generation of ER stress to augmented TLR-4–mediated induction of IL-23p19 via activation of the UPR. This may sustain CD4+ Th17 cells and drive the production of IL-17 and IFNγ from double-positive T cells. The IL-23/IL-17 axis has been implicated in the pathogenesis of several immune-mediated inflammatory diseases in humans, including psoriasis and Crohn's disease, as well as in animal models. Our results strongly support a role of this axis in the pathogenesis of colitis in B27/Huβ2m-transgenic rats. Considering genetic studies implicating polymorphisms in the IL-23 receptor gene in susceptibility to ankylosing spondylitis, our results suggest a mechanism that might link HLA–B27 misfolding to the IL-23/IL-17 axis in humans and should prompt further inquiry into the role of these cytokines in the pathogenesis of spondylarthritis in humans.

AUTHOR CONTRIBUTIONS

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. MATERIALS AND METHODS
  4. RESULTS
  5. DISCUSSION
  6. AUTHOR CONTRIBUTIONS
  7. AUTHOR CONTRIBUTIONS
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. REFERENCES

All authors were involved in drafting the article or revising it critically for important intellectual content, and all authors approved the final version to be published. Dr. Colbert had full access to all of the data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.

AUTHOR CONTRIBUTIONS

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. MATERIALS AND METHODS
  4. RESULTS
  5. DISCUSSION
  6. AUTHOR CONTRIBUTIONS
  7. AUTHOR CONTRIBUTIONS
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. REFERENCES

All authors were involved in drafting the article or revising it critically for important intellectual content, and all authors approved the final version to be published. Dr. Colbert had full access to all of the data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.

Study conception and design. DeLay, Turner, Klenk, Smith, Colbert.

Acquisition of data. DeLay, Turner, Klenk, Smith, Sowders, Colbert.

Analysis and interpretation of data. DeLay, Turner, Klenk, Smith, Colbert.

Acknowledgements

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. MATERIALS AND METHODS
  4. RESULTS
  5. DISCUSSION
  6. AUTHOR CONTRIBUTIONS
  7. AUTHOR CONTRIBUTIONS
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. REFERENCES

We thank David P. Witte for analysis of the histopathologic features, Gerlinde Layh-Schmitt for critical evaluation of the manuscript, and Shuzhen Bai for technical assistance.

REFERENCES

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. MATERIALS AND METHODS
  4. RESULTS
  5. DISCUSSION
  6. AUTHOR CONTRIBUTIONS
  7. AUTHOR CONTRIBUTIONS
  8. Acknowledgements
  9. REFERENCES