The role of naturally occurring regulatory T cells (Treg) in the control of the immune tolerance of ANCA-associated vasculitis (AAV) has not been well defined. Therefore, we separate the phenotypically heterogeneous Treg cells into different subsets based on the expression of FOXP3 and CD45RA during AAV pathogenesis. Fifty-four AAV patients (38 patients with renal involvement) and 19 healthy controls (HCs) were enrolled in this study. Levels of CD4+T cell subsets and cytokines were detected by flow cytometry. Treg immunesuppression capacity was measured in co-culture experiments. The diagnostic value for Treg subsets was evaluated by the areas under the receiver operating characteristic curves (AUC). Patients with AAV had lower percentages and numbers of activated Treg cells (aTreg, P = 0.044, P = 0.002), while higher levels of total Treg cells (P = 0.001, P = 0.026) with diminished immunosuppression capacity. The proportions of effector memory T-cell subpopulation (P < 0.001) were increased in AAV patients. Interestingly, the AUC of the aTreg improved significantly the diagnostic potential of AAV. Furthermore, the ratio of Th17/aTreg was significantly increased in active and renal vasculitis patient and positive correlation between Th17/Treg subset ratio and creatinine or BUN. In addition, we found that cytokine IL-2 and IL-4 exhibited a downward while IL-6, IL-10, TNF-α, IFN-γ and IL-17A trend upward in AAV patients. Increase in total Treg levels, along with functional deficiency, and decrease in aTreg cells constitute potential novel biomarkers for AAV. And the ratio of Th17/aTreg might serve as an important tool to recognize and monitor AAV patients with renal involvement and disease remission.
Keywords: ANCA-associated vasculitis; T-cell abnormality; Th17 cells; Treg subsets.
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