Objectives: Interleukin (IL)-21 is mainly produced by CD4 T helper (Th) cells including Th2, Th17 and follicular helper T (Tfh) cells. Recent studies have reported that IL-21 is involved in the formation of germinal centres (GCs) and class switching of IgG4. It has been suggested that IgG4-related dacryoadenitis and sialoadenitis (IgG4-DS), so-called Mikulicz's disease (MD), is distinct from Sjögren's syndrome (SS) and shows a high frequency of GC formation in salivary glands. In this study the expression of IL-21 in IgG4-DS and SS patients was examined. Methods: Twelve patients with IgG4-DS, 15 with SS and 15 healthy subjects were screened for (1) ectopic GC formation in formalin-fixed labial salivary gland (LSG) biopsy samples; (2) expression of IL-21, Th2-, Th17- and Tfh-related molecules (cytokines, chemokine receptors and transcription factors) in LSGs; (3) relationship between IgG4/IgG ratio and mRNA expression of IL-21 in LSGs. Results: mRNA expression of IL-21 and Bcl-6 in LSGs from patients with IgG4-DS was significantly higher than in patients with SS and controls. IL-21 and CXCR5 were detected by immunohistochemistry in or around GC in patients with SS and those with IgG4-DS. IL-21 was detected in infiltrating lymphocytes outside GC only in patients with IgG4-DS. Expression of IL-21 was consistent with that of Th2-related molecules while IL-17 was rarely seen in IgG4-DS. Furthermore, the expression of IL-21 in LSGs was correlated with the number of GC formations and the IgG4/IgG ratio in patients with IgG4-DS. Conclusions: These results suggest that overexpression of IL-21 by Th2 cells might play a key role in GC formation and IgG4 production in IgG4-DS.
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