Objective: Synovial fibroblasts share a number of phenotype markers with fibroblasts derived from bone marrow. In this study we investigated the role of matched fibroblasts obtained from 3 different sources (bone marrow, synovium, and skin) to test the hypothesis that synovial fibroblasts share similarities with bone marrow-derived fibroblasts in terms of their ability to support survival of T cells and neutrophils.
Methods: Matched synovial, bone marrow, and skin fibroblasts were established from 8 different patients with rheumatoid arthritis who were undergoing knee or hip surgery. Resting or activated fibroblasts were cocultured with either CD4 T cells or neutrophils, and the degree of leukocyte survival, apoptosis, and proliferation were measured.
Results: Fibroblasts derived from all 3 sites supported increased survival of CD4 T cells, mediated principally by interferon-beta. However, synovial and bone marrow fibroblasts shared an enhanced site-specific ability to maintain CD4 T cell survival in the absence of proliferation, an effect that was independent of fibroblast activation or proliferation but required direct T cell-fibroblast cell contact. In contrast, fibroblast-mediated neutrophil survival was less efficient, being independent of the site of origin of the fibroblast but dependent on prior fibroblast activation, and mediated solely by soluble factors, principally granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor.
Conclusion: These results suggest an important functional role for fibroblasts in the differential accumulation of leukocyte subsets in a variety of tissue microenvironments. The findings also provide a potential explanation for site-specific differences in the pattern of T cell and neutrophil accumulation observed in chronic inflammatory diseases.