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Objective: To determine clinical and immunological correlates of high dose chemotherapy (HDC) + autologous stem cell transplantation (ASCT) in patients with severe rheumatoid arthritis (RA), refractory to conventional treatment.
Methods: Serial samples of peripheral blood and synovial tissue were obtained from seven patients with RA treated with HDC and autologous peripheral blood grafts enriched for CD34+ cells. Disease activity was assessed with the Disease Activity Score (DAS), serum concentrations of C reactive protein (CRP), and human immunoglobulin (HIg) scans, and the extent of immunoablation was determined by immunophenotyping of peripheral blood mononuclear cells, and immunohistochemistry and double immunofluorescence of synovium.
Results: Clinical responders (n = 5) had a larger number of cells at baseline expressing CD3, CD4, CD27, CD45RA, CD45RB, and CD45RO in synovium (p<0.05), higher activity on HIg scans (p = 0.08), and a trend towards higher concentrations of CRP in serum than non-responders (n = 2). Subsequent remissions and relapses in responders paralleled reduction and re-expression, respectively, of T cell markers. A relatively increased expression of CD45RB and CD45RO on synovial CD3+ T cells was seen after HDC + ASCT. No correlations were found between DAS and changes in B cells or macrophage infiltration or synoviocytes.
Conclusions: HDC + ASCT results in profound but incomplete immunoablation of both the memory and naïve T cell compartment, which is associated with longlasting clinical responses in most patients. The findings provide strong circumstantial evidence for a role of T cells in established RA, and demonstrate a role for the synovium in post-transplantation T cell reconstitution.