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Synovitis in patients with antibiotic-refractory
Lyme arthritis persists for months to several years after antibiotic therapy. This course, which may result from infection-induced autoimmunity, is associated with T cell recognition of Borrelia burgdorferi outer surface protein A (OspA(161-175)) and with HLA-DR molecules that bind this epitope, including the DRB1*0401 molecule. In this study, we used tetramer reagents to determine the frequencies of OspA(161-175)-specific T cells in samples of PBMC and synovial fluid mononuclear cells (SFMC) from 13 DRB1*0401-positive patients with antibiotic-responsive or antibiotic-refractory arthritis. Initially, three of the six patients (50%) with antibiotic-responsive arthritis and four of the seven patients (57%) with antibiotic-refractory arthritis had frequencies of OspA(161-175)-specific CD4(+) T cells in peripheral blood above the cutoff value of 4 per 10(5) cells. Among the five patients with concomitant PBMC and SFMC, four (80%) had OspA tetramer-positive cells at both sites, but the mean frequency of such cells was 16 times higher in SFMC, reaching levels as high as 1,177 per 10(5) cells. In the two patients in each patient group in whom serial samples were available, the frequencies of OspA(161-175)-specific T cells declined to low or undetectable levels during or soon after antibiotic therapy, months before the resolution of synovitis in the two patients with antibiotic-refractory arthritis. Thus, the majority of patients with
Lyme arthritis initially have increased frequencies of OspA(161-175)-specific T cells. However, the marked decline in the frequency of such cells with antibiotic therapy suggests that persistent synovitis in the refractory group is not perpetuated by these cells.