Early-stage apoptotic cells possess immunomodulatory properties. Proper apoptotic cell clearance during homeostasis has been shown to limit subsequent immune responses. Based on these observations, early-stage apoptotic cell infusion has been used to prevent unwanted inflammatory responses in different experimental models of autoimmune diseases or transplantation. Moreover, this approach has been shown to be feasible without any toxicity in patients undergoing allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplantation to prevent graft-versus-host disease. However, whether early-stage apoptotic cell infusion can be used to treat ongoing inflammatory disorders has not been reported extensively. Recently, we have provided evidence that early-stage apoptotic cell infusion is able to control, at least transiently, ongoing collagen-induced arthritis. This beneficial therapeutic effect is associated with the modulation of antigen-presenting cell functions mainly of macrophages and plasmacytoid dendritic cells, as well as the induction of collagen-specific regulatory CD4+ T cells (Treg). Furthermore, the efficacy of this approach is not altered by the association with two standard treatments of rheumatoid arthritis (RA), methotrexate and tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inhibition. Here, in the light of these observations and recent data of the literature, we discuss the mechanisms of early-stage apoptotic cell infusion and how this therapeutic approach can be transposed to patients with RA.
Keywords: apoptotic cells; biologic DMARD; cell-based therapy; collagen-induced arthritis; efferocytosis; macrophages; regulatory T cells; rheumatoid arthritis.