Human adipose-derived mesenchymal stem cells reduce inflammatory and T cell responses and induce regulatory T cells in vitro in rheumatoid arthritis

Objectives: Adult mesenchymal stem cells were recently found to suppress effector T cell and inflammatory responses and have emerged as attractive therapeutic candidates for immune disorders. In rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a loss in the immunological self-tolerance causes the activation of autoreactive T cells against joint components and subsequent chronic inflammation. The aim of this study is to characterise the immunosuppressive activity of human adipose-derived mesenchymal stem cells (hASCs) on collagen-reactive T cells from patients with RA.

Methods: The effects of hASCs on collagen-reactive RA human T cell proliferation and cytokine production were investigated, as well as effects on the production of inflammatory mediators by monocytes and fibroblast-like synoviocytes from patients with RA.

Results: hASCs suppressed the antigen-specific response of T cells from patients with RA. hASCs inhibited the proliferative response and the production of inflammatory cytokines by collagen-activated CD4 and CD8 T cells. In contrast, the numbers of IL10-producing T cells and monocytes were significantly augmented upon hASC treatment. The suppressive activity of hASCs was cell-to-cell contact dependent and independent. hASCs also stimulated the generation of FoxP3 protein-expressing CD4+CD25+ regulatory T cells, with the capacity to suppress collagen-specific T cell responses. Finally, hASCs downregulated the inflammatory response and the production of matrix-degrading enzymes by synovial cells isolated from patients with RA.

Conclusions: The present work identifies hASCs as key regulators of immune tolerance, with the capacity to suppress T cell and inflammatory responses and to induce the generation/activation of antigen-specific regulatory T cells.