CD4+CD28- T lymphocytes contribute to early atherosclerotic damage in rheumatoid arthritis patients

Roberto Gerli*, Giuseppe Schillaci, Andrea Giordano, Elena Bartoloni Bocci, Onelia Bistoni, Gaetano Vaudo, Simona Marchesi, Matteo Pirro, Federica Ragni, Yehuda Shoenfeld, Elmo Mannarino

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background - Peripheral blood expansion of an unusual CD4+ T-cell subset lacking surface CD28 has been suggested to predispose rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients to develop more aggressive disease. However, the potential association between CD4+CD28null T cells and early atherosclerotic changes in RA has never been investigated. Methods and Results - The number of circulating CD4+CD28null cells was evaluated in 87 RA and 33 control subjects who also underwent evaluation of carotid artery intima-media thickness (IMT) and endothelial function via flow-mediated vasodilation (FMV). Patients had higher IMT and lower FMV compared with control subjects. The frequency of CD4+CD28null cells was significantly higher in patients than in control subjects. Twenty patients with persistent expansion of circulating CD4+CD28null cells had more marked increase of carotid artery IMT and stronger decrease of brachial artery FMV. Blockade of tumor necrosis factor-α led to a partial reappearance of the CD28 molecule on the CD4+ cell surface. Conclusions - Circulating CD4+CD28null lymphocytes are increased in RA. Patients with persistent CD4+CD28null cell expansion show preclinical atherosclerotic changes, including arterial endothelial dysfunction and carotid artery wall thickening, more significantly than patients without expansion. These findings suggest a contribution of this cell subset in atheroma development in RA. Moreover, the demonstration that tumor necrosis factor-α blockade is able to reverse, at least in part, the CD28 deficiency on the CD4+ cell surface may be of interest for possible innovative therapeutic strategies in cardiovascular diseases.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2744-2748
Number of pages5
Issue number22
StatePublished - 8 Jun 2004


  • Arthritis, rheumatoid
  • Cells
  • Endothelium
  • Vasodilation


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