Background: Intestinal tissues of patients with Crohn's disease (CD) contain expanded populations of T cells which are believed to mediate inflammation. We performed a detailed characterization of these T-cell repertoires.
Methods: We obtained biopsies from the neoterminal ileum of 12 patients undergoing evaluation for postoperative recurrent CD and 4 individuals with normal terminal ileum and no history of inflammatory bowel disease (controls). Samples of diseased terminal ileum were obtained from 5 patients undergoing surgery for stricturing or penetrating CD. Total RNA was extracted from tissues and peripheral blood mononuclear cells, and cDNAs were generated. We used next-generation sequencing to characterize T-cell receptor (TCR)-α and TCR-β cDNAs in ileal mucosal tissue and matched peripheral blood mononuclear cells of 17 patients with CD to identify oligoclonal expansions of T-cell populations associated with CD.
Results: TCR diversity in mucosal tissue was significantly lower than that of matched peripheral blood mononuclear cells, indicating expansion of certain T-cell populations in inflamed intestinal tissue. A single TCR-β clonotype, CASSWTNGEQYF (TRBV10-1-TRBJ2-7), was enriched at a frequency of 7.0% to 28.9% in the neoterminal ileum of 4 of 12 patients with recurrent CD. The abundance of this clonotype significantly correlated with the severity of disease recurrence, based on Rutgeerts score (P = 0.015).
Conclusions: Specific populations of T cells are expanded in the inflamed intestinal mucosa of patients with CD; their abundance correlates with severity of disease recurrence. Studies of these T cells could provide information about mechanisms of CD pathogenesis. Deep TCR sequencing is a powerful tool that rapidly provides in-depth, real-time assessment of the T-cell repertoire.