To assess the types of salivary gland (SG) T cells contributing to Sjögren's syndrome (SS), we evaluated SG T cell subtypes for association with disease features and compared the SG CD4+ memory T cell transcriptomes of subjects with either primary SS (pSS) or non-SS sicca (nSS). SG biopsies were evaluated for proportions and absolute numbers of CD4+ and CD8+ T cells. SG memory CD4+ T cells were evaluated for gene expression by microarray. Differentially-expressed genes were identified, and gene set enrichment and pathways analyses were performed. CD4+CD45RA- T cells were increased in pSS compared to nSS subjects (33.2% vs. 22.2%, p < 0.0001), while CD8+CD45RA- T cells were decreased (38.5% vs. 46.0%, p = 0.0014). SG fibrosis positively correlated with numbers of memory T cells. Proportions of SG CD4+CD45RA- T cells correlated with focus score (r = 0.43, p < 0.0001), corneal damage (r = 0.43, p < 0.0001), and serum Ro antibodies (r = 0.40, p < 0.0001). Differentially-expressed genes in CD4+CD45RA- cells indicated a T follicular helper (Tfh) profile, increased homing and increased cellular interactions. Predicted upstream drivers of the Tfh signature included TCR, TNF, TGF-β1, IL-4, and IL-21. In conclusion, the proportions and numbers of SG memory CD4+ T cells associate with key SS features, consistent with a central role in disease pathogenesis.
Keywords: T lymphocytes; salivary gland; sjögren’s syndrome; transcriptome.