Effects of Cytokine Application on Glucocorticoid Secretion in an Animal Model for Systemic Scleroderma

Hans P. Brezinschek, Matthias Gruschwitz, Roswitha Sgonc, Susanne Moormann, Manfred Herold, M. Eric Gershwin, Georg Wick

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13 Scopus citations


We previously reported on an altered immune-endocrine feedback loop via the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis in Obese strain (OS) chickens afflicted with spontaneous autoimmune thyroiditis. These animals are deficient in plasma corticosterone increase after antigenic challenge or application of cytokine-containing conditioned medium of mitogen-stimulated spleen cells (CM). To investigate whether the impaired ability to respond to cytokines with glucocorticoid-increasing factor (GIF) activity, e.g. interleukin 1 (IL 1), is restricted to OS chickens as a model for an organ-specific autoimmune disease, we extended our experiments to another autoimmune-prone animal strain, the chickens of the University of California at Davis line 200 (UCD-200). These animals develop an inherited inflammatory fibrotic disease that closely resembles human progressive systemic sclerosis (scleroderma). Application of GIF-containing CM to UCD-200 chickens leads to a transient increase in glucocorticoid serum levels within 1-2 hours comparable to that of controls. But, while corticosterone levels in the latter returned to normal baseline levels after 4 hours, they were still elevated in autoimmune chickens. Although the peak of the glucocorticoid hormone serum concentrations was equal to that of controls, UCD-200 had to secrete twice as much adrenocorticotropic hormone to achieve this corticosterone serum level due to an apparent hyporesponsiveness of the adrenal gland to this secretagoge. The altered cytokine-induced glucocorticoid secretion is found in early as well as in chronic, sclerotic stages of the disease. Cellular alterations in the peripheral blood of UCD-200 chickens during the prolonged elevated corticosterone section, i.e. between 2-4 hours after CM application, are characterized by a significant decrease in the percentage of CD4+ and CD8+ cells. Furthermore, a significant increase in B cells up to 24 hours with a maximum after 1 hour was found. The proliferative response to the mitogen concanavalin A of peripheral mononuclear cells was inversely correlated to the serum corticosterone level, showing a permanent decrease of 80-90% after 1-4 hours in autoimmune animals. This functional alteration in UCD-200 was accompanied by an 80% decrease in serum interleukin 2 (sIL 2) activity 4 hours after CM application. Twenty-four hours later an eight-fold increase in sIL 2 rebound activity was found, indicating that the inhibitory effect of corticosterone in UCD-200 chickens is not long-lasting.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)719-733
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Autoimmunity
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 1993

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


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