Targeting bioenergetics prevents CD4 T cell-mediated activation of synovial fibroblasts in rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatology (Oxford). 2020 Oct 1;59(10):2816-2828. doi: 10.1093/rheumatology/kez682.


Objectives: We investigated the reciprocal relationship linking fibroblast-like synoviocytes (FLS) and T lymphocytes in the inflamed RA synovium and subsequently targeted cellular metabolic pathways in FLS to identify key molecular players in joint inflammation.

Methods: RA FLS were cultured with CD4 T cells or T cell conditioned medium (CD4CM); proliferation, expression of adhesion molecules and intracellular cytokines were examined by flow cytometry. FLS invasiveness and secreted cytokines were measured by transwell matrigel invasion chambers and ELISA, while metabolic profiles were determined by extracellular Seahorse flux analysis. Gene expression was quantified by real-time quantitative RT-PCR.

Results: Our results showed mutual activation between CD4 T cells and FLS, which resulted in increased proliferation and expression of intercellular adhesion molecule 1 and vascular cell adhesion molecule 1 by both CD4 T cells and FLS. Furthermore, interaction between CD4 T cells and FLS resulted in an increased frequency of TNF-α+, IFN-γ+ and IL-17A+ CD4 T cells and augmented TNF-α, IFN-γ, IL-17A, IL-6, IL-8 and VEGF secretion. Moreover, CD4CM promoted invasiveness and boosted glycolysis in FLS while downregulating oxidative phosphorylation, effects paralleled by increased glucose transporters GLUT1 and GLUT3; key glycolytic enzymes GSK3A, HK2, LDHA and PFKFB3; angiogenic factor VEGF and MMP-3 and MMP-9. Importantly, these effects were reversed by the glycolytic inhibitor 2-DG and AMP analogue 5-aminoimidazole-4-carboxamide ribonucleotide (AICAR).

Conclusion: This study demonstrates that CD4 T cells elicit an aggressive phenotype in FLS, which subsequently upregulate glycolysis to meet the increased metabolic demand. Accordingly, 2-DG and AICAR prevent this activation, suggesting that glycolytic manipulation could have clinical implications for RA treatment.

Keywords: CD4 T lymphocytes; T cells; autoimmunity; cellular interactions; cellular metabolism; fibroblast-like synoviocytes; immunometabolism; inflammation; rheumatoid arthritis; translational immunology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amine Oxidase (Copper-Containing) / metabolism
  • Angiogenic Proteins / metabolism
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / immunology
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / metabolism*
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / metabolism*
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / physiology
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules / metabolism
  • Cell Migration Assays
  • Cell Proliferation
  • Culture Media, Conditioned
  • Cytokines / metabolism*
  • Energy Metabolism*
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism
  • Fibroblasts / physiology
  • Glycolysis / physiology
  • Humans
  • Intercellular Adhesion Molecule-1 / metabolism
  • Interferon-gamma / metabolism
  • Interleukins / metabolism
  • Lymphocyte Activation
  • Oxidative Phosphorylation
  • Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Synovial Membrane / cytology*
  • Synoviocytes / metabolism*
  • Synoviocytes / physiology
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / metabolism
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A / metabolism


  • Angiogenic Proteins
  • Cell Adhesion Molecules
  • Culture Media, Conditioned
  • Cytokines
  • Interleukins
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • VEGFA protein, human
  • Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor A
  • Intercellular Adhesion Molecule-1
  • Interferon-gamma
  • AOC3 protein, human
  • Amine Oxidase (Copper-Containing)