Background & aims: Crohn's disease (CD) is an inflammatory bowel disease characterized by uncontrolled immune responses to bacterial flora, with excessive activation of T lymphocytes. MICA is a stress-induced major histocompatibility complex-related molecule expressed on normal intestinal epithelial cells (IECs) and recognized by the NKG2D-activating receptor on CD8(+) T cells, gammadelta T cells, and natural killer cells. We examined the role of MICA-NKG2D interactions in the activation of T lymphocytes in CD.
Methods: MICA expression was analyzed by flow cytometry on IECs isolated from patients with active inflammatory bowel disease and controls. NKG2D expression and function were analyzed on lamina propria and peripheral blood lymphocytes.
Results: MICA expression was significantly increased on IECs in CD, with higher expression in macroscopically involved areas. A subset of CD4(+) T cells expressing NKG2D was increased in the lamina propria from patients with CD compared with controls and patients with ulcerative colitis. CD4(+)NKG2D(+) T cells with a Th1 cytokine profile and expressing perforin were increased in the periphery and in the mucosa in CD. CD4(+)NKG2D(+) T-cell clones were functionally active through MICA-NKG2D interactions, producing interferon-gamma and killing targets expressing MICA. IECs from patients with CD had the ability to expand this subset in vitro. CD4(+)NKG2D(+) lamina propria lymphocytes from patients with CD highly expressed interleukin-15R alpha, and interleukin-15 increased NKG2D and DAP10 expression in CD4(+)NKG2D(+) T-cell clones.
Conclusions: These findings highlight the role of MICA-NKG2D in the activation of a unique subset of CD4(+) T cells with inflammatory and cytotoxic properties in CD.