The primary function of myeloid-derived suppressor cells (MDSCs) is reflected in their immune modulatory role in several immune-mediated diseases. In immunoglobulin G4 (IgG4)–related disease (IgG4-RD), it has been hypothesized that there are selective regulatory defects that lead to a T helper 2 (Th2) bias immune response. Herein we have taken advantage of a large cohort of patients with IgG4-related sclerosing cholangitis (IgG4-SC), the most common extrapancreatic involvement of IgG4-RD, as well as controls consisting of primary sclerosing cholangitis, autoimmune hepatitis, and healthy volunteers, to study MDSCs. We report dramatically increased levels of receptor activator for nuclear factor kappa B ligand (RANKL) expression in serum and liver from patients with IgG4-SC compared to both liver-disease and healthy controls. Moreover, in IgG4-SC liver, RANKL-secreting cells specifically colocalized with cluster of differentiation 38–positive plasma cells and MDSCs, particularly monocytic MDSCs, and express the RANKL receptor in liver. Similarly, the frequency and number of peripheral blood MDSCs were significantly increased. Importantly, serum expression levels of RANKL were inversely correlated with the serum level of gamma-glutamyltransferase but significantly positively correlated with the frequency of MDSCs. Moreover, we confirmed that RANKL induced the expansion and activation of MDSCs through the RANKL/RANK/nuclear factor kappa B signal pathway. Of note, RANKL-treated MDSCs suppressed T-cell proliferation and induced Th2 differentiation. Conclusion: Our data suggest that plasma cell–derived RANKL induces the expansion and activation of MDSCs, which suppress T-cell proliferation and contribute to the Th2-type response characteristic of IgG4-SC.
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