Objective: This study addresses the hypothesis that a profibrotic pattern of cytokines is produced in the lungs of patients with systemic sclerosis (SSc) and causes fibrosis.
Methods: Using a reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction technique, interleukin-4 (IL-4), IL-5, and interferon-gamma (IFNgamma) messenger RNA (mRNA) were measured in unseparated CD8+ and CD4+ bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) cells from SSc patients and healthy controls. To confirm the results, CD8+ T cells were cloned from BAL fluids, and the pattern of cytokine mRNA made by these cells was determined. Serial pulmonary function tests were done.
Results: BAL cells from healthy controls made IFNgamma mRNA, with no or little IL-4 or IL-5 mRNA. In contrast, BAL cells from the majority of SSc patients made IL-4 and/or IL-5 mRNA, with or without approximately equal amounts of IFNgamma mRNA. This pattern of cytokines was made by CD8+ T cells, which were increased in the lungs of these SSc patients. Patients whose BAL cells made this type 2 pattern of cytokine mRNA had a significant decline in forced vital capacity over time after the BAL, whereas patients whose BAL cells made IFNgamma mRNA alone did not. Both wild-type and an alternative splice variant of IL-4 mRNA were increased in BAL cells from SSc patients. Both forms of IL-4 stimulated alpha2(I) collagen mRNA in human dermal and lung fibroblasts.
Conclusion: The type 2 pattern of cytokine mRNA produced by BAL cells from SSc patients differs from unopposed IFNgamma production found in healthy BAL cells. This production of type 2 cytokine mRNA by CD8+ T cells is associated with a significant decline in lung function over time, which suggests a pathologic role for these T cells in interstitial fibrosis in SSc.