Flow cytometric detection of type 1 (IL-2, IFN-gamma) and type 2 (IL-4, IL-5) cytokines in T-helper and T-suppressor/cytotoxic cells in rheumatoid arthritis, allergic asthma and atopic dermatitis

Cytokine. 1999 Oct;11(10):783-8. doi: 10.1006/cyto.1998.0483.


Type 1 cytokines (a.o. IL-2 and IFN-gamma) play an important role in the pathogenesis of rheumatoid arthritis. On the other hand, IgE-mediated diseases such as allergic asthma and atopic dermatitis show a type 2 cytokine (amongst others IL-4 and IL-5) profile. This study examined simultaneously the intracellular production of IL-2, IFN-gamma, IL-4 and IL-5 in T-lymphocytes of patients with rheumatoid arthritis during treatment with methotrexate or salazopyrin, patients with allergic asthma or atopic dermatitis under stable treatment, compared to healthy controls.A three-colour flow cytometric analysis was used for cytokine detection in T-helper cells and T-suppressor/cytotoxic cells. Compared to controls, patients with symptomatic atopic dermatitis showed an increased number of IL-4-producing T-helper lymphocytes in basal circumstances (P=0.001), in contrast to asymptomatic allergic asthma patients. Compared to controls, rheumatoid arthritis patients, treated with salazopyrin, showed an increased number of IL-2-producing T-helper and T-suppressor/cytotoxic lymphocytes after in vitro stimulation with PMA and ionomycin (P=0.01). In contrast, rheumatoid arthritis patients, treated with methotrexate, a more potent disease modifying drug, did not show this type 1 cytokine profile. A positive correlation was found between the number of IFN-gamma producing T-helper cells and disease activity (Ritchie Index and number of swollen joints) in both rheumatoid arthritis patient groups. Active atopic dermatitis patients showed a type 2 cytokine profile, whereas stable asthma patients with lower disease activity did not show a predominance of type 2 cytokines. Rheumatoid arthritis patients under treatment with salazopyrin had a type 1 cytokine profile, which could not be demonstrated in patients treated with methotrexate. This imbalance between type 1 and type 2 cytokines in different immune mediated disorders can be related with treatment and the grade of disease activity. These results stress the need for further investigation of the influence of therapy on cytokine profiles.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anti-Allergic Agents / therapeutic use
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / therapeutic use
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / drug therapy
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / immunology*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / pathology
  • Asthma / drug therapy
  • Asthma / immunology*
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • Cytokines / analysis*
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / drug therapy
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / immunology*
  • Flow Cytometry
  • Humans
  • Interferon-gamma / analysis
  • Interleukin-2 / analysis
  • Interleukin-4 / analysis
  • Interleukin-5 / analysis
  • Lymphocyte Count
  • Methotrexate / therapeutic use
  • Middle Aged
  • T-Lymphocytes, Helper-Inducer / immunology*


  • Anti-Allergic Agents
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Cytokines
  • Interleukin-2
  • Interleukin-5
  • Interleukin-4
  • Interferon-gamma
  • Methotrexate