Suppressive regulatory T cells (Treg) and pathogenic T helper 17 (Th17) cells are two lymphocyte subsets with opposing activities in autoimmune diseases. The proinflammatory cytokine IL-6 is a potent factor in switching immune responses in vivo from the induction of Treg to pathogenic Th17 cells. We studied the Treg and Th17 cell compartments in experimental autoimmune myasthenia gravis (EAMG) and healthy control rats in order to assess whether the equilibrium between Treg and Th17 cells is perturbed in the disease. We found that Th17 cell-related genes are upregulated and Treg-related genes are downregulated in EAMG. The shift in favor of Th17 cells in EAMG could be reversed by antibodies to IL-6. Administration of anti-IL-6 antibodies to myasthenic rats suppressed EAMG when treatment started at the acute or at the chronic phase of disease. Suppression of EAMG by anti-IL-6 antibodies was accompanied by a decrease in the overall rat anti-AChR antibody titer and by a reduced number of B cells as compared with control treatment. Administration of anti-IL-6 antibodies led to down-regulation of several Th17 related genes including IL-17, IL-17R, IL-23R and IL-21 but did not affect the number of Treg cells in the lymph nodes. These data identify IL-6 as an important target for modulation of autoimmune responses.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
Supported by grants from The Muscular Dystrophy Association of America (MDA) , The Association Francaise Contre les Myopathies (AFM) , The European Commission (FIGHT-MG, contract # FP7 HEALTH-2009-242-210) and The Open University of Israel’s Research Fund .
- Experimental autoimmune myasthenia gravis (EAMG)
- Regulatory T cells