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Open Access Research article

A polymorphism in the interleukin-4 receptor affects the ability of interleukin-4 to regulate Th17 cells: a possible immunoregulatory mechanism for genetic control of the severity of rheumatoid arthritis

Susan K Wallis, Laura A Cooney, Judith L Endres, Min Jie Lee, Jennifer Ryu, Emily C Somers and David A Fox*

Author Affiliations

Division of Rheumatology and Rheumatic Diseases Research Core Center, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Michigan, 1500 East Medical Center Drive, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA

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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2011, 13:R15  doi:10.1186/ar3239

Published: 4 February 2011

Abstract

Introduction

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is now suspected to be driven by pathogenic Th17 cells that secrete interleukin (IL)-17 and can be regulated by IL-4. A single-nucleotide polymorphism (SNP), I50V, in the coding region of the human IL-4 receptor (IL-4R) is associated with rapid development of erosive disease in RA. The present study was undertaken to determine whether this SNP renders the IL-4R less able to transduce signals that regulate IL-17 production.

Methods

Peripheral blood mononuclear cells were activated under Th17-stimulating conditions in the presence or absence of IL-4, and IL-17 production was measured by both enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) and flow cytometry. Serum IL-17 was also measured by ELISA. Paired comparisons were performed using the two-tailed t-test. IL-4 receptor gene alleles were determined by polymerase chain reaction.

Results

In healthy individuals, IL-4 significantly inhibited IL-17 production by cells from subjects with the I/I genotype (P = 0.0079) and the I/V genotype (P = 0.013), but not the V/V genotype (P > 0.05). In a cross-sectional sample of patients with established RA, the magnitude of the in vitro effect of IL-4 was lower and was not associated with a specific IL-4R allele. Serum IL-17 levels were higher in RA patients than in healthy individuals, as was the percentage of CD4+ cells that produced IL-17.

Conclusions

These results indicate that an inherited polymorphism of the IL-4R controls the ability of the human immune system to regulate the magnitude of IL-17 production. However, in established RA, this pattern may be altered, possibly due to secondary effects of both RA itself as well as immunomodulatory medications. Ineffective control of Th17 immune responses is a potential mechanism to explain why IL-4R is an important severity gene in RA, but this issue will require careful study of a cohort of new-onset RA patients.