Lymph nodes (LNs) are highly organized structures where specific immune responses are initiated by dendritic cells (DCs). We investigated the frequency and distribution of human myeloid (mDCs) and plasmacytoid (pDCs) in LNs and blood during the earliest phases of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). We included 22 RA-risk individuals positive for IgM rheumatoid factor and/or anti-citrullinated protein antibodies, 16 biological-naïve RA patients and 8 healthy controls (HCs). DC subsets (CD1c+ mDCs and CD304+ pDCs) in LN tissue and paired peripheral blood were analyzed using flow cytometry and confocal microscopy. In blood of RA patients a significant decreased frequency of pDCs was found, with a similar trend for mDCs. In contrast, mDC frequencies were higher in RA compared with HCs and RA-risk individuals, especially in LN. Frequency of mDCs seemed higher in LNs compared to paired blood samples in all donors, while pDCs were higher in LNs only in RA patients. As expected, both mDCs and pDCs localized mainly in T-cell areas of LN tissue. In conclusion, compared with RA-risk individuals, mDCs and pDCs were enriched in the LN tissue of early-RA patients, while their frequency in RA-risk individuals was comparable to HCs. This may suggest that other antigen-presenting cells are responsible for initial breaks of tolerance, while mDCs and pDCs are involved in sustaining inflammation.
Keywords: at-risk individuals; dendritic cells; lymphoid tissue; rheumatoid arthritis.