IL-18, an immunoregulatory and proinflammatory cytokine, has been shown to play an important pathogenic role in Th1-driven autoimmune disorders. In this study, we evaluated the circulating levels and salivary-gland expression of IL-18 in patients with Sjögren's syndrome (SS), a mainly Th1-mediated disease. IL-18 serum levels were measured by ELISA in 37 patients with primary SS, 42 with rheumatoid arthritis, and 21 normal controls. We demonstrated high IL-18 serum levels in SS, similar to those in rheumatoid arthritis patients and significantly higher than in controls (P < 0.01). In addition, IL-18 serum concentrations were significantly higher in anti-SSA/Ro+ and anti-SSB/La+ than in anti-SSA/Ro- and anti-SSB/La- SS patients (respectively, P = 0.01, P < 0.01). Serum IL-18 correlated strongly with anti-SSA/Ro (P = 0.004) and anti-SSB/La (P = 0.01) titers. Salivary gland IL-18 expression was investigated by single/double immunohistochemistry in 13 patients with primary SS and in 10 with chronic sialoadenitis, used as controls. The expression of IL-18 was also examined in periductal inflammatory foci in relation to the acquisition of features of secondary lymphoid organs such as T–B compartmentalization, formation of follicular dendritic cell networks, and presence of germinal-center-like structures. IL-18 expression in SS salivary glands was detected in 28 of 32 periductal foci of mononuclear cells (87.5%), while no IL-18 production by infiltrating cells was detected in patients with chronic sialoadenitis. Within the inflammatory foci, IL-18 immunoreactivity co-localized almost exclusively with CD68+ macrophages. In addition, IL-18 was found in 15 of 19 foci (78.9%) with no evidence of T–B cell compartmentalization (nonsegregated) but in 100% of the segregated aggregates, both in T- and B-cell-rich areas. Strikingly, IL-18 was strongly expressed by CD68+ tingible body macrophages in germinal-centre-like structures both in SS salivary glands and in normal lymph nodes. IL-18 expression was observed in the ducts of all SS biopsies but in only 4 of 10 patients with nonspecific chronic sialoadenitis (P < 0.01). This study provides the first evidence of increased circulating levels and salivary gland expression of IL-18 in SS, suggesting an important contribution of this cytokine to the modulation of immune inflammatory pathways in this condition.
Keywords: chronic sialoadenitis, germinal centre, interleukin-18, Sjögren's syndrome, tingible body macrophages