We investigated the role of Fcγ receptors (FcγRs) on synovial macrophages in immune-complex-mediated arthritis (ICA). ICA elicited in knee joints of C57BL/6 mice caused a short-lasting, florid inflammation and reversible loss of proteoglycans (PGs), moderate chondrocyte death, and minor erosion of the cartilage. In contrast, when ICA was induced in knee joints of Fc receptor (FcR) γ-chain-/- C57BL/6 mice, which lack functional FcγRI and RIII, inflammation and cartilage destruction were prevented. When ICA was elicited in DBA/1 mice, a very severe, chronic inflammation was observed, and significantly more chondrocyte death and cartilage erosion than in arthritic C57BL/6 mice. The synovial lining and peritoneal macrophages of naïve DBA/1 mice expressed a significantly higher level of FcγRs than was seen in C57BL/6 mice. Moreover, elevated and prolonged expression of IL-1 was found after stimulation of these cells with immune complexes. Zymosan or streptococcal cell walls caused comparable inflammation and only mild cartilage destruction in all strains. We conclude that FcγR expression on synovial macrophages may be related to the severity of synovial inflammation and cartilage destruction during ICA.
Fcγ receptors (FcγRs) present on cells of the haematopoietic lineage communicate with IgG-containing immune complexes that are abundant in the synovial tissue of patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). In mice, three classes of FcγR (RI, RII, and RIII) have been described. Binding of these receptors leads to either activation (FcγRI and RIII) or deactivation (FcγRII) of intracellular transduction pathways. Together, the expression of activating and inhibitory receptors is thought to drive immune-complex-mediated diseases.
Earlier studies in our laboratory showed that macrophages of the synovial lining are of utmost importance in the onset and propagation of immune-complex-driven arthritic diseases. Selective depletion of macrophages in the joint downregulated both inflammation and cartilage destruction. As all three classes of FcγR are expressed on synovial macrophages, these cells are among the first that come in contact with immune complexes deposited in the joint. Recently, we observed that when immune complexes were injected into the knee joints of mice, strains susceptible to collagen-type-II arthritis (DBA/1, B10.RIII) developed more severe arthritis than nonsusceptible strains did, or even developed chronic arthritis. One reason why these strains are more susceptible might be their higher levels of FcγRs on macrophage membranes. To test this hypothesis, we investigated the role of FcγRs in inflammation and cartilage damage during immune-complex-mediated arthritis (ICA). First, we studied arthritis and subsequent cartilage damage in mice lacking functional FcγRI and RIII (FcR γ-chain-/- mice). Next, DBA/1 mice, which are prone to develop collagen-type-II arthritis (`collagen-induced arthritis'; CIA) and are hypersensitive to immune complexes, were compared with control C57BL/6 mice as regards cartilage damage and the expression and function of FcγRs on their macrophages.
To examine whether FcγR expression on macrophages is related to severity of synovial inflammation and cartilage destruction during immune-complex-mediated joint inflammation.
ICA was induced in three strains of mice (FcR γ-chain-/-, C57BL/6, and DBA/1, which have, respectively, no functional FcγRI and RIII, intermediate basal expression of FcγRs, and high basal expression of FcγRs) by passive immunisation using rabbit anti-lysozyme antibodies, followed by poly-L-lysine lysozyme injection into the right knee joint 1 day later. In other experiments, streptococcal-cell-wall (SCW)- or zymosan-induced arthritis was induced by injecting SCW (25 μg) or zymosan (180 μg) directly into the knee joint. At several time points after arthritis induction, knee joints were dissected and studied either histologically (using haematoxylin/eosin or safranin O staining) or immuno-histochemically. The arthritis severity and the cartilage damage were scored separately on an arbitrary scale of 0-3.
FcγRs were immunohistochemically detected using the monoclonal antibody 2.4G2, which detects both FcγRII and RIII. Deposition of IgG and C3c in the arthritic joint tissue was also detected immunohistochemically. Expression of FcγRs by murine peritoneal macrophages was measured using a fluorescence-activated cell sorter (FACS).
Peritoneal macrophages were stimulated using heat-aggregated gamma globulins (HAGGs), and production of IL-1 was measured using a bioassay. To assess the levels of IL-1 and its receptor antagonist (IL-1Ra) during arthritis, tissue was dissected and washed in RPMI medium. Washouts were tested for levels of IL-1 and IL-1Ra using radioimmunoassay and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. mRNA was isolated from the tissue, and levels of macrophage inflammatory protein (MIP)-2, monocyte chemoattractant protein (MCP)-1, IL-1, and IL-1Ra were determined using semiquantitative reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR).
ICA induced in knee joints of C57BL/6 mice caused a florid inflammation at day 3 after induction. To investigate whether this arthritis was FcγR-mediated, ICA was induced in FcR γ-chain-/- mice, which lack functional FcγRI and RIII. At day3, virtually no inflammatory cells were found in their knee joints. Levels of mRNA of IL-1, IL-1Ra, MCP-1, and MIP-2, which are involved in the onset of this arthritis, were significantly lower in FcR γ-chain-/- mice than in control C57BL/6 mice. Levels of IL-1 protein were also measured. At 6 h after ICA induction, FcR γ-chain-/- mice and control C57BL/6 mice showed similar IL-1 production as measured by protein level. By 24 h after induction, however, IL-1 production in the FcR γ-chain-/- mice was below the detection limit, whereas the controls were still producing a significant amount. To investigate whether the difference in reaction to immune complexes between the DBA/1 and C57BL/6 mice might be due to variable expression of FcγRs in the knee joint, expression in situ of FcγRs in naïve knee joints of these mice was determined. The monoclonal antibody 2.4G2, which detects both FcγRII and RIII, stained macrophages from the synovial lining of DBA/1 mice more intensely than those from C57BL/6 mice. This finding suggests a higher constitutive expression of FcγRs by macrophages of the autoimmune-prone DBA/1 mice. To quantify the difference in FcγR expression on macrophages of the two strains, we determined the occurrence of FcγRs on peritoneal macrophages by FACS analysis. The levels of FcγR expressed by macrophages were twice as high in the DBA/1 mice as in the C57BL/6 mice (mean fluorescence, respectively, 440 ± 50 and 240 ± 30 intensity per cell). When peritoneal macrophages of both strains were stimulated with immune complexes (HAGGs), we found that the difference in basal FcγR expression was functional. The stimulated macrophages from DBA/1 mice had significantly higher IL-1α levels (120 and 135 pg/ml at 24 and 48 h, respectively) than cells from C57BL/6 mice (45 and 50 pg/ml, respectively).
When arthritis was induced using other arthritogenic triggers than immune complexes (zymosan, SCW), all the mouse strains tested (DBA/1, FcR γ-chain-/-, and C57BL/6) showed similar inflammation, indicating that the differences described above are found only when immune complexes are used to elicit arthritis.
We next compared articular cartilage damage in arthritic joints of the three mouse strains FcR γ-chain-/-, C57BL/6 (intermediate basal expression of FcγRs), and DBA/1 (high basal expression of FcγRs). Three indicators of cartilage damage were investigated: depletion of PGs, chondrocyte death, and erosion of the cartilage matrix. At day 3 after induction of ICA, there was no PG depletion in FcR γ-chain-/- mice, whereas PG depletion in the matrix of the C57BL/6 mice was marked and that in the arthritic DBA/1 mice was even greater. PG depletion was still massive at days 7 and 14 in the DBA/1 mice, whereas by day 14 the PG content was almost completely restored in knee joints of the C57BL/6 mice. Chondrocyte death and erosion of cartilage matrix, two indicators of more severe cartilage destruction, were significantly higher in the DBA/1 than in the C57BL/6 mice, while both indicators were completely absent in the FcR γ-chain-/- mice. Again, when arthritis was induced using other triggers (SCW, zymosan), all strains showed similar PG depletion and no chondrocyte death or matrix erosion. These findings underline the important role of immune complexes and FcγRs in irreversible cartilage damage.
Our findings indicate that inflammation and subsequent cartilage damage caused by immune complexes may be related to the occurrence of FcγRs on macrophages. The absence of functional FcγRI and RIII prevented inflammation and cartilage destruction after induction of ICA, whereas high basal expression of FcγRs on resident joint macrophages of similarly treated mice susceptible to autoimmune arthritis was correlated with markedly more synovial inflammation and cartilage destruction. The difference in joint inflammation between the three strains was not due to different susceptibilities to inflammation per se, since intra-articular injection of zymosan or SCW caused comparable inflammation. Although extensive inflammatory cell mass was found in the synovium of all strains after intra-articular injection of zymosan, no irreversible cartilage damage (chondrocyte death or matrix erosion) was found. ICA induced in C57BL/6 and DBA/1 mice did cause irreversible cartilage damage at later time points, indicating that immune complexes and FcγRs play an important role in inducing irreversible cartilage damage. Macrophages communicate with immune complexes via Fcγ receptors. Absence of functional activating receptors completely abrogates the synovial inflammation, as was shown after ICA induction in FcR γ-chain-/- mice. However, the γ-chain is essential not only in FcγRI and RIII but also for FcεRI (found on mast cells) and the T cell receptor (TcR)-CD3 (Tcells) complex of γδT cells. However, T, B, or mast cells do not play a role in this arthritis that is induced by passive immunisation. Furthermore, this effect was not caused by a difference in clearance of IgG or complement deposition in the tissue. In this study, DBA/1 mice, which are susceptible to collagen-induced autoimmune arthritis and in a recent study have been shown to react hypersensitively to immune complexes, are shown to express higher levels of FcγRs on both synovial and peritoneal macrophages. Because antibodies directed against the different subclasses of FcγR are not available, no distinction could be made between FcγRII and RIII. Genetic differences in DBA/1 mice in genes coding for or regulating FcγRs may be responsible for altered FcγR expression. If so, these mouse strains would have a heightened risk for immune-complex-mediated diseases.
To provide conclusive evidence for the roles of the various classes of FcγR during ICA, experiments are needed in which FcγRs are blocked with specific antibodies, or in which knockout mice lacking one specific class of FcγR are used. The only available specific antibody to FcγR (2.4G2) has a stimulatory effect on cells once bound to the receptor, and therefore cannot be used in blocking experiments. Experiments using specific knockout mice are now being done in our laboratory.
Macrophages are the dominant type of cell present in chronic inflammation during RA and their number has been shown to correlate well with severe cartilage destruction. Apart from that, in humans, these synovial tissue macrophages express activating FcRs, mainly FcγIIIa, which may lead to activation of these macrophages by IgG-containing immune complexes. The expression of FcRs on the surface of these cells may have important implications for joint inflammation and severe cartilage destruction and therefore FCRs may constitute a new target for therapeutic intervention.