Sex-based differences in association between circulating T cell subsets and disease activity in untreated early rheumatoid arthritis patients

Jonathan Aldridge, Jayesh M. Pandya, Linda Meurs, Kerstin Andersson, Inger Nordström, Elke Theander, Anna Carin Lundell, Anna Rudin

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Background: It is not known if sex-based disparities in immunological factors contribute to the disease process in rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Hence, we examined whether circulating T cell subset proportions and their association with disease activity differed in male and female patients with untreated early rheumatoid arthritis (ueRA). Methods: Proportions of T cell subsets were analyzed in peripheral blood from 72 ueRA DMARD- and corticosteroid-naïve patients (50 females and 22 males) and in 31 healthy age- and sex-matched controls. Broad analysis of helper and regulatory CD4+ T cell subsets was done using flow cytometry. Disease activity in patients was assessed using DAS28, CDAI, swollen joint counts, tender joint counts, CRP, and ESR. Results: Multivariate factor analyses showed that male and female ueRA patients display distinct profiles of association between disease activity and circulating T cell subset proportions. In male, but not female, ueRA patients Th2 cells showed a positive association with disease activity and correlated significantly with DAS28-ESR, CDAI, and swollen and tender joint counts. Likewise, proportions of non-regulatory CTLA-4+ T cells associated positively with disease activity in male patients only, and correlated with DAS28-ESR. In contrast, there was a negative relation between Th1Th17 subset proportions and disease activity in males only. The proportions of Th17 cells correlated positively with DAS28-ESR in males only, while proportions of Th1 cells showed no relation to disease activity in either sex. There were no significant differences in proportions of T cell subsets between the sexes in patients with ueRA. Conclusions: Our findings show sex-based differences in the association between T cell subsets and disease activity in ueRA patients, and that Th2 helper T cells may have a role in regulating disease activity in male patients.

Original languageEnglish
Article number150
JournalArthritis Research and Therapy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Jul 20

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Rheumatology and Autoimmunity


  • Disease activity
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Sex
  • T cells


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