Background Interleukin (IL)-12 and IL-23 are heterodimers that share the p40 subunit, and both cytokines are critical in the differentiation of T helper (Th)1 and Th17 cells, respectively. Th1 and Th17 effector cells have been implicated in the pathogenesis of experimental autoimmune encephalitis (EAE), an animal model of the human central nervous system (CNS) autoimmune demyelinating disorder multiple sclerosis (MS). However, ustekinumab, a monoclonal antibody (mAb) against p40 failed to show efficacy over placebo in a phase II clinical trial in patients with MS. The role of p40 in initial T cell priming and maintenance in secondary lymphoid tissues is not yet well understood. Methods Active EAE was induced in the B6.129-IL12b strain of p40eYFP reporter mice (yet40 mice), and Th1 and Th17 polarized cells were adoptively transferred into p40-deficient mice. Cellular subsets were phenotyped by multi-parameter flow cytometry, and p40 tissue expression was identified by confocal microscopy. Results We show that yet40 mice are susceptible to EAE, and that p40 is highly expressed in secondary lymphoid organs and the CNS during all stages of the disease. Interestingly, p40 expression in the recipient is not required for EAE induction after adoptive transfer of activated and differentiated encephalitogenic Th1 and Th17 cells into p40-deficient mice. Peripheral antagonism of T helper cell trophic factors critical for the differentiation and maintenance of Th1 and Th17 cells ameliorates EAE, indicating that p40 may play a critical role in the induction of CNS autoimmunity but not in its perpetuation. Conclusion Our data may explain why ustekinumab did not ameliorate paraclinical and clinical disease in patients with MS. In patients with already established disease, activated antigen-specific encephalitogenic CD4+ T cells are likely already differentiated, and are not dependent on p40 for maintenance. A clinical trial of longer duration with anti-p40 mAbs or other forms of pharmacological p40 antagonism, or sequential anti-p40 therapy following T cell depletion may show a benefit by affecting de novo generation of autoimmune T cells.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
- General Agricultural and Biological Sciences