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Gestational attenuation of Lyme arthritis is mediated by progesterone and IL-4.

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Infection of different strains of laboratory mice with the agent of
Lyme disease, Borrelia burgdorferi, results in arthritis, the severity of which has been correlated with the dominance of Th1 cytokines. In this study, we demonstrate that changes in B. burgdorferi-specific immunologic responses associated with pregnancy can alter the outcome of
Lyme arthritis in mice. Whereas nonpregnant female C3H mice consistently developed severe
Lyme arthritis, pregnant mice had a marked reduction in arthritis severity that was associated with a slight reduction in IFN-gamma and markedly increased levels of IL-4 production by B. burgdorferi-specific T cells. Similar reductions in arthritis severity and patterns of cytokine production were observed in nonpregnant, progesterone-implanted mice. Ab neutralization of IL-4 in progesterone-implanted mice resulted in severe arthritis. Our results are consistent with the known shift toward Th2 cytokine expression at the maternal-fetal interface, and are the first to show a pregnancy-related therapeutic effect in an infectious model.

J Immunol. 2001 Jun 15;166(12):7404-9. Research Support, U.S. Gov’t, P.H.S.

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