• interleukin-6;
  • regulatory T cells;
  • rheumatoid arthritis;
  • Th17 cells;
  • tocilizumab


A new paradigm has emerged relating the pathogenesis of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), focused on the balance between T helper type 17 cells and regulatory T cells (Tregs). In humans, both subpopulations depend on transforming growth factor (TGF)-β for their induction, but in the presence of inflammatory cytokines, such as interleukin (IL)-6, the generation of Th17 is favoured. Tocilizumab is a therapeutic antibody targeting the IL-6 receptor (IL-6R), which has demonstrated encouraging results in RA. The aim of this study was to evaluate the effect of tocilizumab on Th1 cells, Th17 cells, IL-17 and interferon (IFN)-γ double secretors Th17/Th1 cells, and Tregs in RA patients. Eight RA patients received tocilizumab monthly for 24 weeks and blood samples were obtained every 8 weeks to study T cell populations by flow cytometry. The frequency of Th17 cells, Th1 cells and Th17/Th1 cells was evaluated in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) activated in vitro with a polyclonal stimulus. Tregs were identified by their expression of forkhead box protein 3 (FoxP3) and CD25 by direct staining of PBMCs. Although no changes were detected in the frequency of Th1 or Th17 cells, the percentages of peripheral Tregs increased after therapy. In addition, the infrequent Th17/Th1 subpopulation showed a significant increment in tocilizumab-treated patients. In conclusion, tocilizumab was able to skew the balance between Th17 cells and Tregs towards a more protective status, which may contribute to the clinical improvement observed in RA patients.