Decreased up-regulation of the interleukin-12Rβ2-chain and interferon-γ secretion and increased number of forkhead box P3-expressing cells in patients with a history of chronic Lyme borreliosis compared with asymptomatic Borrelia-exposed individuals

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SummaryLyme borreliosis (LB) can, despite adequate antibiotic treatment, develop into a chronic condition with persisting symptoms such as musculoskeletal pain, subjective alteration of cognition and fatigue. The mechanism behind this is unclear, but it has been postulated that an aberrant immunological response might be the cause. In this study we investigated the expression of the T helper 1 (Th1) marker interleukin (IL)-12Rβ2, the marker for T regulatory cells, forkhead box P3 (FoxP3) and the cytokine profile in patients with a history of chronic LB, subacute LB, previously Borrelia-exposed asymptomatic individuals and healthy controls. Fifty-four individuals (12 chronic LB, 14 subacute LB, 14 asymptomatic individuals and 14 healthy controls) were included in the study and provided a blood sample. Mononuclear cells were separated from the blood and stimulated with antigens. The IL-12Rβ2 and FoxP3 mRNA expression was analysed with real-time reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction (RT–PCR). The protein expression of IL-12Rβ2 on CD3+, CD4+, CD8+ and CD56+ cells was assessed by flow cytometry. Furthermore, the secretion of interferon (IFN)-γ, IL-4, IL-5, IL-10, IL-12p70 and IL-13 was analysed by enzyme-linked immunospot (ELISPOT) and/or enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). Chronic LB patients displayed a lower expression of Borrelia-specific IL-12Rβ2 on CD8+ cells and also a lower number of Borrelia-specific IFN-γ-secreting cells compared to asymptomatic individuals. Furthermore, chronic LB patients had higher amounts of Borrelia-specific FoxP3 mRNA than healthy controls. We speculate that this may indicate that a strong Th1 response is of importance for a positive outcome of a Borrelia infection. In addition, regulatory T cells might also play a role, by immunosuppression, in the development of chronic LB.

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