Objective: To investigate whether immunologic abnormalities in patients with Behçet's disease (BD) are related to abnormalities of the Th1/Th2 ratio.
Methods: Th1/Th2 cytokine production by peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBL) from 31 patients with BD, 11 patients with inflammatory arthritis, and 10 healthy blood donors was evaluated by intracellular immunofluorescence staining. Serum interleukin-12 (IL-12) levels were measured using an enzyme amplified-sensitivity immunoassay. The effect of recombinant IL-12 (rIL-12) on spontaneous and Fas-mediated apoptosis of phytohemagglutinin (PHA)-stimulated PBL was evaluated by flow cytometry using propidium iodide (PI) staining and a bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU)/PI procedure.
Results: Intracellular immunofluorescence staining of IL-2, IL-4, and interferon-gamma (IFNgamma) in CD3+ lymphocytes from BD patients demonstrated a strong polarization of the immune response toward the Th1 pathway that correlated with the progression of BD. Peripheral Th1 cells were significantly increased in patients with active disease (n = 14) as compared with those in patients in complete remission (n = 17), patients with inflammatory arthritis, and normal donors. In addition, serum IL-12 levels were correlated with peripheral Th1 lymphocytes and disease progression. Apoptotic analysis revealed that PHA-activated PBL from patients with active disease were highly sensitive to spontaneous and Fas-mediated activation-induced cell death. However, addition of rIL-12 to complete medium prevented this spontaneous and Fas-induced apoptosis and enhanced the proliferation of Th1 lymphocytes.
Conclusion: Taken together, these results indicate that a strong Th1 immune response occurs in active BD and suggest that IL-12 plays a substantial part in the pathogenesis of BD. By preventing spontaneous and Fas-induced cell death, in fact, it results in an abnormal growth of autoreactive Th1 lymphocytes that could contribute to the prolonged inflammatory autoimmune condition of BD.