Spondyloarthritis (SpA) does not display the typical features of auto-immune disease. Despite the strong association with MHC class I, CD8+ T cells are not required for disease induction in the HLA-B27/Huβ2m transgenic rats. We used Lewis HLA-B27/Huβ2m transgenic rats [21-3 × 283-2]F1, HLA-B7/Huβ2m transgenic rats [120-4 × 283-2]F1, and wild-type rats to test our hypothesis that SpA may be primarily driven by the innate immune response. In vitro, splenocytes were stimulated with heat-inactivated Mycobacterium tuberculosis and cytokine expression and production was measured. In vivo, male and female rats were immunized with 30, 60, or 90 µg of heat-inactivated M. tuberculosis and clinically monitored for spondylitis and arthritis development. After validation of the model, we tested whether prophylactic and therapeutic TNF targeting affected spondylitis and arthritis. In vitro stimulation with heat-inactivated M. tuberculosis strongly induced gene expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines such as TNF, IL-6, IL-1α, and IL-1β, in the HLA-B27 transgenic rats compared with controls. In vivo immunization induced an increased spondylitis and arthritis incidence and an accelerated and synchronized onset of spondylitis and arthritis in HLA-B27 transgenic males and females. Moreover, immunization overcame the protective effect of orchiectomy. Prophylactic TNF targeting resulted in delayed spondylitis and arthritis development and reduced arthritis severity, whereas therapeutic TNF blockade did not affect spondylitis and arthritis severity. Collectively, these data indicate that innate immune activation plays a role in the initiation of HLA-B27-associated disease and allowed to establish a useful in vivo model to study the cellular and molecular mechanisms of disease initiation and progression.
Keywords: HLA-B27 transgenic rats; bone formation; inflammation; innate immunity; spondyloarthritis.