During pregnancy, most patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) experience a spontaneous improvement in their condition. Since type I interferons (IFN) have immunomodulatory properties, we investigated whether type I IFN-inducible genes are upregulated in pregnant patients with RA. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells were evaluated using quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction for type I IFN-inducible genes (IFI 35, IFI44, IFI44L, IFIT3, OAS1, and Siglec1) in patients with RA and healthy women during and after pregnancy as well as in nonpregnant controls. IFN-alpha and IFN-beta levels in sera of patients and healthy donors were analyzed by enzyme linked immunosorbent assay. It was found that healthy women did not show a change of gene expression levels from the second trimester until postpartum, yet some type I IFN-inducible genes were significantly upregulated in pregnant and postpartum women compared with nonpregnant individuals. In patients with RA, a pronounced upregulation of IFI35 and IFI44 at the second trimester and a peak expression of Siglec1 at the third trimester were observed. Pregnancy levels of IFI35 and IFI44 in patients with RA were higher than those of nonpregnant patients with RA. No significant association of gene expression levels with disease activity was found. In the sera of patients and healthy women, IFN-beta was undetectable and IFN-alpha levels remained stable throughout pregnancy and postpartum. Thus, pregnancy can give rise to an increased expression of type I IFN-inducible genes, reflecting an upregulation of the innate immune system. However, an association of type I IFN-inducible genes with pregnancy induced disease amelioration seems unlikely.
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