Purpose: To investigate the effects of TNF-α blockage on levels of circulating Th17, Treg and their related cytokines in ankylosing spondylitis (AS) patients with different response to anti-TNF-α therapy.
Methods: The frequencies of circulating Th17 and Treg and serum levels of related cytokines were determined using flow cytometry analysis and ELISA, respectively, in 222 AS patients both before (baseline) and 6 months after anti-TNF-α therapy. Therapeutic response was defined according to ASAS (Assessment in Spondyloarthritis International Society) response criteria.
Results: Significantly higher baseline circulating Th17 and serum TNF-α, IL-6, IL-17, IL-23 were observed in active AS patients than in healthy controls. After anti-TNF-α therapy, 168 patients (75.7 %) were responders and 54 (24.3 %) were non-responders. Frequencies of Th17 significantly decreased in responders, but significantly increased in non-responders. Treg increased significantly in responders but decreased significantly in non-responders. Levels of TNF-α, IL-6, IL-17, and IL-23 were significantly decreased in responders. In contrast, IL-17 and IL-23 significantly increased in non-responders. TGF-β were significantly increased only in responders, whereas no significant changes were seen in IL-10 in either responders or non-responders. Spearman correlation analysis showed that frequencies of Th17 and levels of TNF-α, IL-6, IL-17, and IL-23 were positively correlated with BASDAI score. They were also positively correlated with BASFI score except for IL-6. Treg were found to be negatively correlated with BASDAI score.
Conclusions: The beneficial effect of anti-TNF-α therapy in AS might not only neutralize the effects of TNF-α but also down-regulate Th17 and Th17-related cytokines accompanied by up-regulating the Treg/TGF-β axis in responders.