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This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
This study was conducted to examine the frequency, phenotype, and functional profile of T lymphocytes that proliferate in response to type I collagen (CI) in patients with scleroderma (SSc). Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from SSc patients, healthy controls, and rheumatoid arthritis disease controls were labeled with carboxy-fluorescein diacetate, succinimidyl ester (CFSE), cultured with or without antigen (bovine CI) for 14 days, and analysed by flow cytometry. Surface markers of proliferating cells were identified by multi-color flow cytometry. T-cell lines were derived after sorting for proliferating T cells (CFSElow). Cytokine expression in CI-responsive T cells was detected by intracellular staining/flow cytometry and by multiplex cytokine bead assay (Bio-Plex). A T-cell proliferative response to CI was detected in 8 of 25 (32%) SSc patients, but was infrequent in healthy or disease controls (3.6%; p = 0.009). The proliferating T cells expressed a CD4+, activated (CD25+), memory (CD45RO+) phenotype. Proliferation to CI did not correlate with disease duration or extent of skin involvement. T-cell lines were generated using in vitro CI stimulation to study the functional profile of these cells. Following activation of CI-reactive T cells, we detected intracellular interferon (IFN)-γ but not interleukin (IL)-4 by flow cytometry. Supernatants from the T-cell lines generated in vitro contained IL-2, IFN-γ, GM-CSF (granulocyte macrophage-colony-stimulating factor), and tumour necrosis factor-α, but little or no IL-4 and IL-10, suggesting that CI-responsive T cells express a predominantly Th1 cytokine pattern. In conclusion, circulating memory CD4 T cells that proliferate to CI are present in a subset of patients with SSc, but are infrequent in healthy or disease controls.