Rheumatoid arthritis is characterized by persistent synovial inflammation and progressive joint destruction, which are mediated by innate and adaptive immune responses. Cytokine blockade successfully treats some patient subsets; however, ∼50% do not respond to this approach. Targeting of pathogenic T lymphocytes is emerging as an effective alternative/complementary therapeutic strategy, yet the factors that control T cell activation in joint disease are not well understood. Tenascin-C is an arthritogenic extracellular matrix glycoprotein that is not expressed in healthy synovium but is elevated in the rheumatoid joint, where high levels are produced by myeloid cells. Among these cells, tenascin-C expression is most highly induced in activated dendritic cells (DCs). The aim of this study was to examine the role of tenascin-C in this cell type.


We systematically compared the phenotype of DCs isolated from wild-type mice or mice with a targeted deletion of tenascin-C by assessing cell maturation, cytokine synthesis, and T cell polarization.


Dendritic cells derived from tenascin-C–null mice exhibited no defects in maturation; induction of the class II major histocompatibility complex and the costimulatory molecules CD40 and CD86 was unimpaired. Dendritic cells that did not express tenascin-C, however, produced lower levels of inflammatory cytokines than did cells from wild-type mice and exhibited specific defects in Th17 cell polarization. Moreover, tenascin-C–null mice displayed ablated levels of interleukin-17 in the joint during experimental arthritis.


These data demonstrate that tenascin-C is important in DC-mediated polarization of Th17 lymphocytes during inflammation and suggest a key role for this endogenous danger signal in driving adaptive immunity in erosive joint disease.