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In a murine model of antibiotic-refractory
Lyme arthritis, the numbers of Treg cells are dramatically reduced. The aim of this study was to examine Treg cell numbers and function in patients with antibiotic-refractory
CD4+ T cell subsets were enumerated in the peripheral blood (PB) and synovial fluid (SF) of 12 patients with antibiotic-refractory arthritis and 6 patients with antibiotic-responsive arthritis. Treg cell function was examined using Borrelia-specific and nonspecific Treg cell proliferation assays.
In both patient groups, interferon-gamma-positive Th1 cells in SF were abundant and enriched (approximately 50% of CD4+ T cells). In patients with antibiotic-refractory arthritis, the median percentages of FoxP3-positive Treg cells were significantly higher in SF than in PB (12% versus 6%; P = 0.03) or in SF from patients with antibiotic-responsive arthritis (12% versus 5%; P = 0.04). Moreover, in the antibiotic-refractory group, a higher percentage of Treg cells in SF correlated with a shorter duration until resolution of arthritis (r = -0.74, P = 0.006). In contrast, patients with fewer Treg cells had suboptimal responses to
disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs and a longer duration of arthritis after antibiotic treatment, and they often required synovectomies for arthritis resolution. In each group, Treg cells in SF dampened Borrelia burgdorferi-specific proliferative responses, and in 2 patients with antibiotic-refractory arthritis, Treg cells were functional in nonspecific suppression assays.
Treg cells were functional in patients with antibiotic-refractory arthritis, and in some patients, higher numbers of these cells in SF appeared to participate in arthritis resolution. However, as in the murine model, patients with antibiotic-refractory arthritis and lower numbers of Treg cells seemed unable to achieve resolution of synovial inflammation.