Relationship of CD146 expression to activation of circulating T cells: exploratory studies in healthy donors and patients with connective tissue diseases


Correspondence: R. Busch, Department of Medicine (Rheumatology), Box 157, Level 5, Addenbrooke's Hospital, Hills Road, Cambridge CB2 0QQ, UK.



The endothelial cell adhesion molecule, CD146, is expressed on ≈ 2% of normal circulating T cells, correlating with T cell activation, endothelial interactions and T helper type 17 (Th17) effector functions. In this study, we have characterized CD146 expression in circulating T cells from healthy controls and patients with stable, well-controlled autoimmune connective tissue diseases (CTDs). In vitro, anti-CD3/anti-CD28 stimulation induced CD146 expression in both CD4 and CD8 T cells. In healthy controls and CTD patients, CD146 was associated with expression of recent and chronic activation markers (CD25+, OX-40+, CD69+, CD27) and was confined to CD45RO+/RA/CD28+ populations within the CD4 subset. Except for CD69, these markers were not associated with CD146 in the CD8 subset. Surprisingly, most CTD patients exhibited no T cell hyperactivation ex vivo. In five of five patients with secondary Sjögren's syndrome circulating T cells appeared activated despite therapy, and CD146 up-regulation, associated with activation markers, was observed both on CD4 and CD8 T cells. There was no association between CD146 and putative pro-atherogenic T cell subsets. In conclusion, the relationship of CD146 expression to T cell activation differs between T cell subsets in healthy subjects and correlates with systemic hyperactivity, where present, in patients with CTDs, as exemplified by the patients with secondary Sjögren's syndrome in this study.