Increased circulating levels and salivary gland expression of interleukin-18 in patients with Sjögren's syndrome: relationship with autoantibody production and lymphoid organization of the periductal inflammatory infiltrate

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


  • Michele Bombardieri
  • Valerio Pittoni
  • Cristiano Alessandri
  • Paola Conigliaro
  • Mark C Blades
  • Roberta Priori
  • Iain B McInnes
  • Guido Valesini
  • Costantino Pitzalis

Colleges, School and Institutes


IL-18, an immunoregulatory and proinflammatory cytokine, has been shown to play an important pathogenic role in Th1-driven autoimmune disorders. In this study, we evaluated the circulating levels and salivary-gland expression of IL-18 in patients with Sjögren's syndrome (SS), a mainly Th1-mediated disease. IL-18 serum levels were measured by ELISA in 37 patients with primary SS, 42 with rheumatoid arthritis, and 21 normal controls. We demonstrated high IL-18 serum levels in SS, similar to those in rheumatoid arthritis patients and significantly higher than in controls (P < 0.01). In addition, IL-18 serum concentrations were significantly higher in anti-SSA/Ro+ and anti-SSB/La+ than in anti-SSA/Ro- and anti-SSB/La- SS patients (respectively, P = 0.01, P < 0.01). Serum IL-18 correlated strongly with anti-SSA/Ro (P = 0.004) and anti-SSB/La (P = 0.01) titers. Salivary gland IL-18 expression was investigated by single/double immunohistochemistry in 13 patients with primary SS and in 10 with chronic sialoadenitis, used as controls. The expression of IL-18 was also examined in periductal inflammatory foci in relation to the acquisition of features of secondary lymphoid organs such as T-B compartmentalization, formation of follicular dendritic cell networks, and presence of germinal-center-like structures. IL-18 expression in SS salivary glands was detected in 28 of 32 periductal foci of mononuclear cells (87.5%), while no IL-18 production by infiltrating cells was detected in patients with chronic sialoadenitis. Within the inflammatory foci, IL-18 immunoreactivity co-localized almost exclusively with CD68+ macrophages. In addition, IL-18 was found in 15 of 19 foci (78.9%) with no evidence of T-B cell compartmentalization (nonsegregated) but in 100% of the segregated aggregates, both in T- and B-cell-rich areas. Strikingly, IL-18 was strongly expressed by CD68+ tingible body macrophages in germinal-centre-like structures both in SS salivary glands and in normal lymph nodes. IL-18 expression was observed in the ducts of all SS biopsies but in only 4 of 10 patients with nonspecific chronic sialoadenitis (P < 0.01). This study provides the first evidence of increased circulating levels and salivary gland expression of IL-18 in SS, suggesting an important contribution of this cytokine to the modulation of immune inflammatory pathways in this condition.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)R447-56
JournalArthritis Research & Therapy
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2004


  • Adult, Aged, Autoantibodies, Cell Line, Tumor, Chemotaxis, Leukocyte, Chronic Disease, Epithelial Cells, Female, Humans, Immunohistochemistry, Inflammation, Interleukin-18, Lymph Nodes, Lymphatic System, Male, Middle Aged, Organ Specificity, Salivary Glands, Sialadenitis, Sjogren's Syndrome, Th1 Cells