Most human organ-specific autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto's thyroiditis (HT) are considered to be Th1 mediated, and a quantitative dominance of Th1 cells in thyroid infiltrates from both Graves' disease (GD) and HT affected glands has been reported. However, Th2 dominance would be expected in GD, where thyroid hyperfunction induced by stimulating antibodies predominates over tissue destruction. We have analyzed the interleukin-4 (IL-4), interferon-γ (IFN-γ) production by T cells at the single-cell level, both in infiltrating lymphocytes isolated from digested GD acid HT thyroid glands and in derived T cell lines, by direct intracellular cytokine detection. Results showed a heterogeneous pattern of cytokine production in bulk GD infiltrates and derived T cell lines, and a similar pattern was observed in the much larger HT infiltrates. Both type 1 and type 2 cytokines were simultaneously produced by the infiltrating populations, and T cells with both patterns as well as intermediate patterns similar to Th0 cells could be detected ex vivo. However, the larger T lymphocytes, presumably activated and responsible for the autoimmune damage, predominantly produced IL-4 in GD and IFN-γ in HT. The specificity of the Th2 responses in GD was suggested by the enrichment in IL-4 production after antigen-specific expansion of two oligoclonal T cell lines. These data show that both type 1 and type 2 cytokines are produced in the thyroid glands affected by autoimmunity and that the difference between diseases may be the effect of a functionally dominant population at a given time. This in vivo chronically activated antigen-specific population, producing type 1 or type 2 cytokines locally, may be responsible for the effect finally leading to one of the disease states.
- Flow cytometry
- Thyroid autoimmunity