Human PD-1hiCD8+ T Cells Are a Cellular Source of IL-21 in Rheumatoid Arthritis

Kazuhiko Higashioka, Motoki Yoshimura, Takahide Sakuragi, Masahiro Ayano, Yasutaka Kimoto, Hiroki Mitoma, Nobuyuki Ono, Yojiro Arinobu, Makoto Kikukawa, Hisakata Yamada, Takahiko Horiuchi, Koichi Akashi, Hiroaki Niiro

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19 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a prototypical autoantibody-driven autoimmune disease in which T-B interactions play a critical role. Recent comprehensive analysis suggests that PD-1+CD8+ T cells as well as two distinct IL-21-producing PD-1+CD4+ T cell subsets, follicular helper T (Tfh) and peripheral helper T (Tph) cells, are involved in the pathogenesis of RA. Herein, we aimed to clarify a generation mechanism of IL-21-producing CD8+ T cells in humans, and to characterize this novel subset in patients with RA. Methods: CD8+ T cells in the peripheral blood (PB) and synovial fluid (SF) of healthy control (HC) and patients with RA were subject to the analysis of IL-21 mRNA and protein. We evaluated the surface marker, cytokine and transcription profiles of IL-21-producing CD8+ T cells in HCPB, RAPB and RASF. Results: IL-21-producing CD8+ T cells were enriched in the CD45RA-(memory) PD-1+, especially PD-1hi subpopulation, and IL-12 and IL-21 synergistically induced IL-21 production by naïve CD8+ T cells. Memory PD-1hiCD8+ T cells in HCPB facilitated plasmablast differentiation and IgG production in an IL-21-dependent manner. In addition, PD-1hiCD8+ T cells in RASF and RAPB produced large amounts of IL-21 and were characterized by high levels of CD28, ICOS, CD69, HLA-DR, and CCR2 but not CXCR5. Furthermore, PD-1hiCD8+ T cells expressed high levels of transcripts of MAF and PRDM1, a feature observed in Tph cells. Conclusions: Identification of IL-21-producing PD-1hiCD8+ T cells expands our knowledge of T cell subsets with B helper functions in RA. Selective targeting of these subsets could pave an avenue for the development of novel treatment strategies for this disease.

Original languageEnglish
Article number654623
JournalFrontiers in Immunology
Publication statusPublished - Mar 19 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


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