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Ectopic Germinal Center Formation in Rheumatoid Synovitis


Address for correspondence: Cornelia M. Weyand, M. D., Guggenheim 401, 200 First Street SW, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minnesota 55905. Voice: 507-284-1650; fax: 507-284-5045.


Abstract: Synovial inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis is closely related to the formation of ectopic lymphoid microstructures. In synovial tissue from some patients, one finds seemingly diffuse infiltrates; in others, T cells and B cells cluster in aggregates with interdigitating dendritic cells (DCs) but no follicular DCs (FDCs). In a third group, T cell/B cell follicles with germinal center (GC) reactions are generated. Within a given patient, aggregates and GCs are mutually exclusive and stable over time. Because antigen storage capacity, lymphoid density, and three-dimensional topography of GCs optimize immune responses, synovial GCs should play a crucial role in the breakdown of self-tolerance. We have identified factors critical for ectopic GCs, thereby transforming the synovial inflammatory process. Tissues with GCs produced 10- to 20-fold higher amounts of the chemokines CXCL13 and CCL21. CXCL13 derived from three sources, endothelial cells, synovial fibroblasts, and FDC networks. The level of CXCL13 transcripts strongly predicted GCs; however, some tissues had high levels of CXCL13 but lacked GCs. Tissue expression of LT-β emerged as a second key factor. LT-β protein was detected on follicular center and mantle zone B cells. Multivariate regression analysis identified CXCL13 and LT-β as the only cytokines predicting GCs. Remarkably, LT-α did not contribute independently. The contribution of B cells to ectopic lymphoid organogenesis was not limited to LT-β production. Rather, synovial tissue B cells were critical in regulating T cell activation. In adoptive transfer experiments in human synovium-SCID mouse chimeras, activation of synovium-derived CD4 T cells was strictly dependent on T cell/B cell follicles. Depletion of synovial tissue B cells abrogated T cell function, and non-B cell antigen-presenting cells could not maintain T cell stimulation. Unexpectedly, GC function in the rheumatoid lesion was also dependent on CD8 T cells. The majority of T cell receptors derived from CD8 T cells were shared between distinct GCs. Depletion of CD8 T cells disrupted synovial GCs, FDC networks disappeared, and transcription of LT-β, IgG, and Igκ declined. Follicle-sustaining CD8 T cells were located at the edge of or within the mantle zone. Cell-cell communication in the mantle zone, including CD8 T cells, appears to be critical for ectopic GC formation in rheumatoid synovitis.