Objective: To define the cytokine profile within rheumatoid subcutaneous nodules, and to determine whether the destructive inflammatory process in this lesion displays features of a lymphocyte-driven Th1 or Th2 granuloma.
Methods: Subcutaneous nodules excised from 10 patients with rheumatoid arthritis were examined. Transcripts for interleukin 1beta (IL-1beta) IL-2, IL-4, IL-5, IL-10, IL-12, IL-13, IL-15, IL-18, and for tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFalpha) and interferon-gamma (IFNgamma) were detected by reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction of extracted RNA.
Results: Nine of 10 nodules contained transcripts for IFNgamma. We observed no evidence for the expression of IL-2, IL-4, or IL-5 among the lymphokine genes analyzed. Transcripts for TNFalpha, IL-1beta, IL-10, IL-15, and IL-18 were present in all 10 nodules. Transcripts for IL-12 were present in all but one nodule. Expression of IL-13 messenger RNA was observed in only 5 nodules.
Conclusion: The cytokine profile within the rheumatoid nodule (i.e., presence of IFNgamma but not IL-2, and prominent expression of IL-1beta and TNFalpha together with IL-12, IL-18, IL-15, and IL-10) is similar to the profile of cytokines in the synovial lesion of rheumatoid arthritis, which is generally accepted as being attributable to a Th1-mediated inflammatory mechanism. Our results suggest that damage to affected synovial membrane or subcutaneous tissue is caused by the same inflammatory mechanisms, and that the nodule is a Th1 granuloma.