Tfh cells with NLRP3 inflammasome activation are essential for high-affinity antibody generation, germinal centre formation and autoimmunity

Ann Rheum Dis. 2022 Jul;81(7):1006-1012. doi: 10.1136/annrheumdis-2021-221985. Epub 2022 Apr 12.


Objective: NLRP3 inflammasome regulates T cell responses. This study examined the roles of NLRP3 inflammasome activation in the regulation of T follicular helper (Tfh) cells during humoral response to T dependent antigens and in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).

Methods: NLRP3 inflammasome activation of Tfh cells was studied in B6, MRL/lpr and NZM2328 mice and in SLE patients and healthy controls using a fluorescence-labelled caspase-1 inhibitor probe. MCC950, a selective inhibitor of NLRP3, was used to investigate the relation between NLRP3 inflammasome activation and germinal centre (GC) reaction, Ab responses to immunisation, and autoantibody production.

Results: NLRP3 inflammasome activation in Tfh cells after immunisation was identified in B6 mice. MCC950 inhibited humoral responses to sheep red blood cell and NP-CGG with reduction of the GC reaction. B6 mice with lymphoid cell-specific deletion of NLRP3 or Casp1 mounted suboptimal humoral responses with impaired GC formation and defective affinity maturation. In MRL/lpr and NZM2328 mice, inhibition of NLRP3 activation suppressed NLRP3 activated Tfh cell expansion as well as attenuated lupus-like phenotypes. Tfh cells with activated NLRP3 inflammasome exhibited increased expression of molecules for Tfh cell function and differentiation, and had greater ability to activate B cells. In SLE patients, disease activity was positively correlated with an increase in the activated NLRP3+ Tfh population and this population was markedly reduced in response to therapy.

Conclusions: The activation of NLRP3 inflammasome in Tfh cells is an integral part of responses to immunisation. The activated NLRP3+ Tfh population is essential for optimal humoral responses, GC formation and autoimmunity.

Keywords: Autoantibodies; Autoimmunity; Inflammation; Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic; T-Lymphocyte subsets.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autoimmunity*
  • Germinal Center
  • Inflammasomes / metabolism
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred MRL lpr
  • NLR Family, Pyrin Domain-Containing 3 Protein* / immunology
  • T Follicular Helper Cells* / immunology
  • T-Lymphocytes, Helper-Inducer


  • Inflammasomes
  • NLR Family, Pyrin Domain-Containing 3 Protein
  • Nlrp3 protein, mouse