Objective: To determine if the T cell antigen receptor V beta usage of unstimulated rheumatoid arthritis (RA) synovial fluid (SF) T cells is biased compared with those in peripheral blood (PB).
Methods: Freshly isolated, matched synovial fluid and peripheral blood T cells were analyzed for V beta gene expression using quantitative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) methods. Ten synovial fluid samples from the knees of 7 patients with RA were studied. The PCR assay used 26 V beta primers with a constant region C beta primer, and 2 C alpha primers that co-amplified a product that served as an internal standard. Cycle number and complementary DNA content were controlled to ensure the linear accumulation of PCR products. Labeled products were separated on 10% polyacrylamide gels and counted with a Betascope blot analyzer.
Results: There were consistent differences between the V beta gene usage of SF and PB T cells directly isolated from patients with RA, regardless of HLA-DR haplotype. In all synovial specimens, V beta 2 was increased relative to the peripheral blood, while V beta 13.1 and V beta 13.2 were decreased. V beta 6 and V beta 21 were increased in 9 of the 10 synovial samples. Analyses of bilateral SF specimens from 2 subjects and serial specimens from the same knee of 1 subject revealed virtually identical patterns in each patient. The SF V beta bias was not solely due to differences in the proportion of CD4+ and CD8+ cells, because the CD4:CD8 ratios in SF and PB were similar. However, V beta gene usage of separated CD4+ and CD8+ synovial T cells showed that V beta 2 and V beta 6 were more highly expressed on CD4 cells.
Conclusion: Freshly isolated synovial T cells from inflamed (not end-stage) knees of patients with RA have a remarkably consistent biased V beta gene usage compared with PB T cells. V beta 2 and V beta 6 are uniformly increased, and this increase is primarily in CD4+ T cells. The same V beta bias in the SF T cells of several RA patients suggests that shared antigens may be stimulating the T cell response.