Objective: Dendritic cells (DC) are the only antigen-presenting cells that can activate naïve T lymphocytes and initiate a primary immune response. They are also thought to have a role in immune tolerance. DC traffic from the blood to peripheral tissue where they become activated. They then present antigen and the costimulating signals necessary to initiate an immune response. In this study, we investigated the number, subsets, and activation pattern of circulating and intestinal DC from patients with clinically mild ulcerative colitis (UC) or Crohn's disease.
Methods: Patients were recruited, if they were not taking immunosuppressive therapy, and were assessed for clinical severity of their disease using for UC, the Clinical Activity Index, and for Crohn's disease, the Crohn's Disease Activity Index. Blood CD11c+ and CD11c- DC subsets, expression of costimulatory antigens, CD86 and CD40, and the early differentiation/activation antigen, CMRF44, were enumerated by multicolor flow cytometry of lineage negative (lin- = CD3-, CD19-, CD14-, CD16-) HLA-DR+ DC. These data were compared with age-matched healthy and the disease control groups of chronic noninflammatory GI diseases (cGI), acute noninflammatory GI diseases (aGI), and chronic non-GI inflammation (non-GI). In addition, cryostat sections of colonoscopic biopsies from healthy control patients and inflamed versus noninflamed gut mucosa of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) patients were examined for CD86+ and CD40+ lin- cells.
Results: Twenty-one Crohn's disease and 25 UC patients, with mean Crohn's Disease Activity Index of 98 and Clinical Activity Index of 3.1, and 56 healthy controls, five cGI, five aGI, and six non-GI were studied. CD11c+ and CD11c- DC subsets did not differ significantly between Crohn's, UC, and healthy control groups. Expression of CD86 and CD40 on freshly isolated blood DC from Crohn's patients appeared higher (16.6%, 31%) and was significantly higher in UC (26.6%, 46.3%) versus healthy controls (5.5%, 25%) (p = 0.004, p = 0.012) and non-GI controls (10.2%, 22.8%) (p = 0.012, p = 0.008), but not versus cGI or aGI controls. CD86+ and CD40+ DC were also present in inflamed colonic and ileal mucosa from UC and Crohn's patients but not in noninflamed IBD mucosa or normal mucosa. Expression of the CMRF44 antigen was low on freshly isolated DC, but it was upregulated after 24-h culture on DC from all groups, although significantly less so on DC from UC versus Crohn's or healthy controls (p = 0.024). The CMRF44+ antigen was mainly associated with CD11c+ DC, and in UC was inversely related to the Clinical Activity Index (r = -0.69, p = 0.0002).
Conclusions: There is upregulation of costimulatory molecules on blood DC even in very mild IBD but surprisingly, there is divergent expression of the differentiation/activation CMRF44 antigen. Upregulation of costimulatory molecules and divergent expression of CMRF44 in blood DC was also apparent in cGI and aGI but not in non-GI or healthy controls, whereas intestinal CD86+ and CD40+ DC were found only in inflamed mucosa from IBD patients. Persistent or distorted activation of blood DC or divergent regulation of costimulatory and activation antigens may have important implications for gut mucosal immunity and inflammation.