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This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
B cell-activating factor (BAFF) has a key role in promoting B-lymphocyte activation and survival in primary Sjögren's syndrome (pSS). The cellular origin of BAFF overexpression in salivary glands of patients with pSS is not fully known. We investigated whether salivary gland epithelial cells (SGECs), the main targets of autoimmunity in pSS, could produce and express BAFF. We used quantitative RT-PCR, ELISA and immunocytochemistry in cultured SGECs from eight patients with pSS and eight controls on treatment with IL-10, tumor necrosis factor α (TNF-α), IFN-α and IFN-γ. At baseline, BAFF expression in SGECs was low in pSS patients and in controls. Treatment with IFN-α, IFN-γ and TNF-α + IFN-γ increased the level of BAFF mRNA in pSS patients (the mean increases were 27-fold, 25-fold and 62-fold, respectively) and in controls (mean increases 19.1-fold, 26.7-fold and 17.7-fold, respectively), with no significant difference between patients and controls. However, in comparison with that at baseline, stimulation with IFN-α significantly increased the level of BAFF mRNA in SGECs of pSS patients (p = 0.03) but not in controls (p = 0.2), which suggests that SGECs of patients with pSS are particularly susceptible to expressing BAFF under IFN-α stimulation. Secretion of BAFF protein, undetectable at baseline, was significantly increased after IFN-α and IFN-γ stimulation both in pSS patients (40.8 ± 12.5 (± SEM) and 47.4 ± 18.7 pg/ml, respectively) and controls (24.9 ± 8.0 and 9.0 ± 3.9 pg/ml, respectively), with no significant difference between pSS and controls. Immunocytochemistry confirmed the induction of cytoplasmic BAFF expression after stimulation with IFN-α and IFN-γ. This study confirms the importance of resident cells of target organs in inducing or perpetuating autoimmunity. Demonstrating the capacity of SGECs to express and secrete BAFF after IFN stimulation adds further information to the pivotal role of these epithelial cells in the pathogenesis of pSS, possibly after stimulation by innate immunity. Our results suggest that an anti-BAFF therapeutic approach could be particularly interesting in pSS.