Multifunctional T cell reactivity with native and glycosylated type II collagen in rheumatoid arthritis

Arthritis Rheum. 2012 Aug;64(8):2482-8. doi: 10.1002/art.34459.


Objective: Type II collagen (CII) is a cartilage-specific protein to which a loss of immune tolerance may trigger autoimmune reactions and cause arthritis. The major T cell epitope on CII, amino acids 259-273, can be presented by several HLA-DRB1 04 alleles in its native or posttranslational glycosylated form. The present study was undertaken to functionally explore and compare CII-autoreactive T cells from blood and synovial fluid of patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Methods: Peripheral blood was obtained from HLA-DRB1 04-positive RA patients (n = 10) and control subjects (n = 10) and stimulated in vitro with several variants of the CII(259-273) epitope, i.e., unmodified, glycosylated on Lys-264, glycosylated on Lys-270, or glycosylated on both Lys-264 and Lys-270. Up-regulation of CD154 was used to identify responding T cells. These cells were further characterized by intracellular staining for interleukin-17 (IL-17), interferon-γ (IFNγ), and IL-2 by flow cytometry. Synovial T cells from RA patients were investigated in parallel.

Results: Multifunctional T cell responses toward all examined variants of the CII(259-273) peptide could be detected in RA patients and, to a lesser extent, also in healthy HLA-matched controls (P < 0.001). In RA patients, a comparison between blood- and joint-derived T cell function revealed a significant increase in levels of the proinflammatory cytokine IFNγ in synovial T cells (P = 0.027). Studies of longitudinally obtained samples showed that T cell responses were sustained over the course of disease, and even included epitope spreading.

Conclusion: The identification of inflammatory T cell responses to both glycosylated and nonglycosylated variants of the major CII epitope in RA patients suggests that CII autoreactivity in RA may be more common than previously recognized.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / immunology*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / metabolism
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / pathology*
  • Blood Cells / pathology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Collagen Type II / immunology*
  • Disease Progression
  • Epitopes, T-Lymphocyte / immunology*
  • Glycosylation
  • HLA-DRB1 Chains / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Interferon-gamma / metabolism
  • Interleukin-17 / metabolism
  • Interleukin-2 / metabolism
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Synovial Fluid / cytology
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • T-Lymphocytes / pathology*


  • Collagen Type II
  • Epitopes, T-Lymphocyte
  • HLA-DRB1 Chains
  • HLA-DRB1*04 antigen
  • Interleukin-17
  • Interleukin-2
  • Interferon-gamma