RATIONALE - Sarcoidosis is a granulomatous disease of unknown etiology. Many patients with sarcoidosis demonstrate antigen-specific immunity to mycobacterial virulence factors. Th-17 cells are crucial to the immune response in granulomatous inflammation, and have recently been shown to be present in greater numbers in the peripheral blood and bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) fluid (BALF) of sarcoidosis patients than healthy controls. It is unclear whether Th-17 cells in sarcoidosis are specific for mycobacterial antigens, or whether they have similar functionality to control Th-17 cells.
METHODS - Flow cytometry was used to determine the numbers of Th-17 cells present in the peripheral blood and BALF of patients with sarcoidosis, the percentage of Th-17 cells that were specific to the mycobacterial virulence factor ESAT-6, and as well as to assess IFN-γ expression in Th-17 cells following polyclonal stimulation.
RESULTS - Patients with sarcoidosis had greater numbers of Th-17 cells in the peripheral blood and BALF than controls and produced significantly more extracellular IL-17A (p = 0.03 and p = 0.02, respectively). ESAT-6 specific Th-17 cells were present in both peripheral blood and BALF of sarcoidosis patients (p < 0.001 and p = 0.03, respectively). After polyclonal stimulation, Th-17 cells from sarcoidosis patients produced less IFN-γ than healthy controls.
CONCLUSIONS - Patients with sarcoidosis have mycobacterial antigen-specific Th-17 cells peripherally and in sites of active sarcoidosis involvement. Despite the Th1 immunophenotype of sarcoidosis immunology, the Th-17 cells have reduced IFN-γ expression, compared to healthy controls. This reduction in immunity may contribute to sarcoidosis pathogenesis.