In situ analysis of interleukin-23- and interleukin-12-positive cells in the spine of patients with ankylosing spondylitis

Arthritis Rheum. 2013 Jun;65(6):1522-9. doi: 10.1002/art.37937.


Objective: The interleukin-12 (IL-12) family of cytokines has been suggested to play a critical role in inflammatory autoimmune diseases, and recent studies analyzing peripheral blood and synovial fluid from patients with spondyloarthritides suggest that IL-23 might be a proinflammatory factor in these disorders. This study was undertaken to investigate the presence and source of IL-23 in the spines of patients with ankylosing spondylitis (AS).

Methods: The frequency of IL-23-positive and IL-12-positive cells within the subchondral bone marrow and within fibrous tissue replacing normal bone marrow in facet joints of patients with AS was analyzed by immunohistochemistry. The origin of IL-23-positive cells was determined by double staining of CD163+ macrophages, CD68+ macrophages, CD1a+ dendritic cells, tryptase-positive mast cells, myeloperoxidase-positive cells, CD20+ B cells, and CD3+ T cells. Findings in 28 facet joints from 22 AS patients were compared with those in 20 facet joints from 13 patients with osteoarthritis (OA) and 10 normal control specimens.

Results: The frequency of IL-23-positive cells in subchondral bone marrow from the joints of AS patients (mean ± SD 42.50 ± 32.81/high-power field [hpf]) was significantly increased compared to that in subchondral bone marrow from OA patients (OA 15.63 ± 29.90/hpf) (P = 0.0017) or controls (19.36 ± 16.8/hpf) (P = 0.03). Myeloperoxidase-positive cells and, to a lesser extent, macrophages and dendritic cells were found to be the origin of IL-23 in the bone marrow. In AS and OA patients, the frequency of IL-23-positive cells was significantly higher than that of IL-12-positive cells (P < 0.001 in both patient groups). Within fibrous tissue from AS and OA facet joints, IL-23 was predominantly produced by CD163+ macrophages (mean ± SD 0.64 ± 0.59/hpf and 4.36 ± 3.4/hpf, respectively) and CD68+ macrophages (2.3 ± 0.65/hpf and 6.54 ± 4.1/hpf, respectively).

Conclusion: IL-23 is expressed in the subchondral bone marrow and in fibrous tissue replacing bone marrow in facet joints of patients with AS. It might have a role in inflammatory processes and in chronic changes in AS joints, which makes it an interesting potential therapeutic target in this disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Cytokines
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Interleukin-12 / metabolism*
  • Interleukin-23 / metabolism*
  • Joints / immunology*
  • Macrophages / immunology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Spine / immunology
  • Spine / pathology*
  • Spondylitis, Ankylosing / immunology*


  • Cytokines
  • Interleukin-23
  • Interleukin-12