IL-17A is a central driver of spondyloarthritis (SpA), its production was originally proposed to be IL-23 dependent. Emerging preclinical and clinical evidence suggests, however, that IL-17A and IL-23 have a partially overlapping but distinct biology. We aimed to assess the extent to which IL-17A-driven pathology is IL-23 dependent in experimental SpA. Experimental SpA was induced in HLA-B27/Huβ2m transgenic rats, followed by prophylactic or therapeutic treatment with an anti-IL23R antibody or vehicle control. Spondylitis and arthritis were scored clinically and hind limb swelling was measured. Draining lymph node cytokine expression levels were analyzed directly ex vivo, and IL-17A protein was measured upon restimulation with PMA/ionomycin. Prophylactic treatment with anti-IL23R completely protected against the development of both spondylitis and arthritis, while vehicle-treated controls did develop spondylitis and arthritis. In a therapeutic study, anti-IL23R treatment failed to reduce the incidence or decrease the severity of experimental SpA. Mechanistically, expression of downstream effector cytokines, including IL-17A and IL-22, was significantly suppressed in anti-IL23R versus vehicle-treated rats in the prophylactic experiments. Accordingly, the production of IL-17A upon restimulation was reduced. In contrast, there was no difference in IL-17A and IL-22 expression after therapeutic anti-IL23R treatment. Targeting the IL-23 axis during the initiation phase of experimental SpA-but not in established disease-inhibits IL-17A expression and suppresses disease, suggesting the existence of IL-23-independent IL-17A production. Whether IL-17A can be produced independent of IL-23 in human SpA remains to be established.
Keywords: HLA-B27 tg rats; IL-17A; IL-23 signaling; IL-23R; animal models; experimental spondyloarthritis; spondyloarthritis.