It has been well recognized that a deficit of numbers and function of CD4+CD25+Foxp3+ cells (Treg) is attributed to the development of some autoimmune diseases; however, there are controversial data regarding the suppressive effect of Treg cells on the T cell response in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Additionally, IL-17-producing cells (Th17) have been recently emerged as a new pathogenic cell, but their role in lupus remains unclear. In this study, we studied the connection between Treg and Th17 cells in lupus patients. We observed that, while Treg or Th17 cells alone were not correlated to SLE development, the ratio of Treg to Th17 cells in active SLE patients is significantly lower than that in inactive SLE patients and healthy controls, and we also found corticosteroid treatment increased the ratio of Treg to Th17 cells in active SLE patients. Moreover, this ratio is inversely correlated with the severity of active SLE. The present study indicates that active SLE appears to exist as an imbalance between Treg and Th17 cells. Correction of this Treg/Th17 imbalance may have therapeutic impact for patients with SLE.
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