Proinflammatory T cell polarization is already present in patients with early knee osteoarthritis

Nils Rosshirt, Richard Trauth, Hadrian Platzer, Elena Tripel, Timo A. Nees, Hanns Martin Lorenz, Theresa Tretter, Babak Moradi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Background: Investigating the pathophysiological mechanisms of early osteoarthritis (OA) is of utmost interest since this stage holds the strongest promise for therapeutic interventions. The aims of this study were to analyze if synovial inflammation is already present in early OA and to characterize the involved cell populations, by investigating synovial fluid (SF) and synovial membrane (SM) of early OA patients for the presence and polarization status of CD4 T cells. Methods: A quantitative analysis of CD4+ T cell infiltration in SF and SM compared to peripheral blood (PB) was performed in patients with early stages of OA. We further investigated intracellular staining (ICS), surface marker, and chemokine receptor expression profiles of CD4+ T cells in SF, SM, and PB, as well as cytokine expression in native SF and PB. Matched samples of SF, SM, and PB were harvested from 40 patients with early OA at the time of surgery. Early OA was confirmed by independent surgeons intraoperatively. Samples were analyzed by flow cytometry for surface markers and cytokines, which are preferentially expressed by distinct T cell subsets (Th1, Th2, Th17, regulatory T cells). Furthermore, we analyzed native SF and PB supernatants using MACSPlex for multiple cytokine expression profiles. Results: SF and SM showed a distinct infiltration of CD4+ T lymphocytes, with significantly increased expression of chemokine receptors CXCR3/CCR5, cytokine IFN-γ (preferentially expressed by Th1 cells), and CD161 (preferentially expressed by IL-17 producing Th17 cells) compared to PB. Furthermore, the percentage of CD4+ T cells polarized to Treg was significantly increased in SM compared to SF and PB. No significant differences were observed for CCR3 and CCR4 (preferentially expressed by Th2 cells), although IL-4 values were significantly higher in SM and SF compared to PB. Cytokine analysis showed comparable results between PB and SF, with only IL-6 being significantly increased in SF. Conclusions: Early OA joints show already significant inflammation through CD4+ T cell infiltration, with predominant Th1 cell polarization. Inflammation seems to be driven by direct proinflammatory cell interaction. Cytokine signaling seems to be negligible at the site of inflammation in early OA, with only IL-6 being significantly increased in SF compared to PB.

Original languageEnglish
Article number37
JournalArthritis Research and Therapy
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Chemokine receptor
  • Cytokines
  • Early OA
  • Inflammatory T cells
  • Synovial fluid
  • Synovial membrane
  • T cell polarization
  • T helper cells


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