A common concern with many autoimmune diseases of unknown etiology is the extent to which tissue T-lymphocyte infiltrates, versus a nonspecific infiltrate, reflect a response to the causative agent.
Lyme arthritis can histologically resemble rheumatoid synovitis, particularly the prominent infiltration by T lymphocytes. This has raised speculation about whether
Lyme synovitis represents an ongoing response to the causative spirochete, Borrelia burgdorferi, or rather a self-perpetuating autoimmune reaction. In an effort to answer this question, the present study examined the repertoire of infiltrating T cells in synovial fluid from nine
Lyme arthritis patients, before and after stimulation with B. burgdorferi. Using a highly sensitive and consistent quantitative PCR technique, a comparison of the T-cell antigen receptor (TCR) beta-chain variable (Vbeta) repertoires of the peripheral blood and synovial fluid showed a statistically significant increase in expression of Vbeta2 and Vbeta6 in the latter. This is remarkably similar to our previous findings in studies of rheumatoid arthritis and to other reports on psoriatic skin lesions. However, stimulation of synovial fluid T cells with B. burgdorferi provoked active proliferation but not a statistically significant increase in expression of any TCR Vbeta, including Vbeta2 and Vbeta6. Collectively, the findings suggest that the skewing of the TCR repertoire of fresh synovial fluid in
Lyme arthritis may represent more a synovium-tropic or nonspecific inflammatory response, similar to that occurring in rheumatoid arthritis or psoriasis, rather than a specific Borrelia reaction.