Circulating mature granzyme B+ T cells distinguish Crohn’s disease-associated axial spondyloarthritis from axial spondyloarthritis and Crohn’s disease

Adam R. Lefferts, Emilie H. Regner, Andrew Stahly, Becky O’Rourke, Mark E. Gerich, Blair P. Fennimore, Frank I. Scott, Alison E. Freeman, Ken Jones, Kristine A. Kuhn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Background: Axial spondyloarthritis (axSpA) has strong connections with intestinal inflammation as occurs in Crohn’s disease (CD). However, the immunologic mechanisms that distinguish axSpA, CD, and those with features of both diseases (CD-axSpA) are unknown. This study aimed to address this question by initial unbiased single cell RNA-sequencing (scRNAseq) on a pilot cohort followed by validating findings using flow cytometry and ELISA in a larger cohort. Methods: Two individuals each with CD, axSpA, CD-axSpA, and healthy controls (HC) were recruited for a pilot discovery scRNAseq cohort, and the validation cohort consisted of 18 axSpA, 24 CD, 13 CD-axSpA, and 17 HC that was evaluated by flow cytometry on PBMCs and ELISAs for plasma cytokines. Results: Uniquely, PBMCs from subjects with CD-axSpA demonstrated a significant increase in granzyme B+ T cells of both CD4+ and CD8+ lineages by both scRNAseq and flow cytometry. T cell maturation was also greater in those with CD-axSpA, particularly the CD4+ granzyme B+ population. Pathway analysis suggested increased interferon response genes in all immune cell populations within CD-axSpA. Although IFN-γ was elevated in the plasma of a subset of subjects with CD-axSpA, IL-6 was also significantly elevated. Conclusions: Our findings support the presence of a chronic interferonopathy in subjects with CD-axSpA characterized by interferon signaling by pathway analysis and an expansion of mature, cytotoxic T cells. These data indicate fundamental immunological differences between CD-axSpA and both of the putative “parent” conditions, suggesting that it is a distinct disease with unique natural history and treatment needs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number147
JournalArthritis Research and Therapy
Volume23
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 2021

Keywords

  • Ankylosing spondylitis
  • Axial spondyloarthritis
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Cytotoxic T cells
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Interferonopathy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Rheumatology
  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology

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