Arthritis in a genetically susceptible SKG strain of mice models a theoretical paradigm wherein autoimmune arthritis arises because of interplay between preexisting autoreactive T cells and environmental stimuli. SKG mice have a point mutation in ZAP-70 that results in attenuated TCR signaling, altered thymic selection, and spontaneous production of autoreactive T cells that cause arthritis following exposure to microbial b-glucans. In this study, we identify Nod2, an innate immune receptor, as a critical suppressor of arthritis in SKG mice. SKG mice deficient in Nod2 (Nod22/2SKG) developed a dramatically exacerbated form of arthritis, which was independent of sex and microbiota, but required the skg mutation in T cells. Worsened arthritis in Nod22/2 SKG mice was accompanied by expansion of Th17 cells, which to some measure coproduced TNF, GM-CSF, and IL-22, along with elevated IL-17A levels within joint synovial fluid. Importantly, neutralization of IL-17A mitigated arthritis in Nod22/2SKG mice, indicating that Nod2-mediated protection occurs through suppression of the Th17 response. Nod2 deficiency did not alter regulatory T cell development or function. Instead, Nod2 deficiency resulted in an enhanced fundamental ability of SKG CD4+ T cells (from naive mice) to produce increased levels of IL-17 and to passively transfer arthritis to lymphopenic recipients on a single-cell level. These data reveal a previously unconsidered role for T cell-intrinsic Nod2 as an endogenous negative regulator of Th17 responses and arthritogenic T cells. Based on our findings, future studies aimed at understanding a negative regulatory function of Nod2 within autoreactive T cells could provide novel therapeutic strategies for treatment of patients with arthritis.
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