Introduction: Recent studies have revealed that lung inflammation mediated by CD4+ T cells may contribute to the pathogenesis of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). The imbalance between CD4 + CD25 + Foxp3 + regulatory T (Treg) cells and T helper (Th)17 cells has been found in a number of different inflammation and autoimmune diseases, while the role of the Th17/Treg balance in ARDS remains largely unknown. The aim of this study was to investigate the Th17/Treg pattern and its impact on disease severity and outcomes in patients with ARDS.
Methods: This prospective, observational study enrolled 79 patients who fulfilled the Berlin definition of ARDS and 26 age- and sex-matched healthy controls. Circulation Th17 and Treg cell frequencies were analyzed by flow cytometry, and the expressions of Th17- and Treg-related cytokines in serum were measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). Acute Physiologic and Chronic Health Evaluation (APACHE) II score, Sequential Organ Failure Assessment (SOFA) score, and the Lung Injury Score were also calculated at enrollment.
Results: Within 24 hours after the onset of ARDS, the changes of peripheral circulating Th17 and Treg cell frequencies gradually increased from mild to severe ARDS. Th17/Treg ratio was positively correlated with APACHE II score, SOFA score, and Lung Injury Score, while negatively correlated with PaO₂/FiO₂. The areas under the receiver operating characteristic (AUC) curves of Th17/Treg ratio for predicting 28-day mortality in ARDS patients was higher than that of APACHE II score, SOFA score, Lung injury score, as well as PaO2/FiO2. Using a Th17/Treg ratio cutoff value of >0.79 to determine 28-day mortality, the sensitivity was 87.5% with 68.1% specificity. Multivariate logistic regression showed Th17/Treg ratio >0.79 (odds ratio = 8.68, P = 0.002) was the independent predictor for 28-day mortality in patients with ARDS. Finally, cumulative survival rates at 28-day follow-up also differed significantly between patients with Th17/Treg ratio >0.79 and ≤0.79 (P <0.001).
Conclusions: The Th17/Treg imbalance favoring a Th17 shift represents a potential therapeutic target to alleviate lung injury and a novel risk indicator in patients with early ARDS.