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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.
Antimalarial agents have been widely used as disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs in the treatment of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and other rheumatological diseases, although their mechanism of action has not yet been fully defined. It is known, however, that effective response to treatment is variable among patients. Thus, the identification of genetic predictors of treatment response would provide valuable information for therapeutic intervention. The aim of the present study was to analyze the effect of antimalarial treatment on tumor necrosis factor (TNF)α serum levels and evaluate the possible influence of TNFα and IL-10 functional genetic polymorphisms on the response to antimalarial drugs. To this end, TNFα serum levels were quantified in 171 SLE patients and 215 healthy controls by ELISA techniques and polymorphisms at positions -1,082 and -308 of the IL-10 and TNFα gene promoterswere determined by PCR amplification followed by hybridization with fluorescent-labeled allele-specific probes in 192 SLE patients and 343 matched controls. Data were related to clinical features and treatment at the time of sampling and during the course of the disease. Results showed a significantly higher amount of serum TNFα in the entire SLE population compared with controls. However, TNFα serum levels correlated negatively with the use of antimalarial treatment during at least three months before sampling. Patients under single or combined treatment with these drugs had TNFα serum levels similar to healthy controls, whereas untreated patients and those under corticosteroid or immunosuppressive therapies had increased amounts of this cytokine. This suggests, however, that antimalarial-mediated inhibition of TNFα was only significant in patients who were genetically high TNFα or low IL-10 producers. In addition, evaluation of SLE patients administered antimalarial drugs for three or more years who did not require any other specific SLE treatment indicates that patients with the combined genotype low IL-10/high TNFα are the best responders to antimalarial therapy, developing mild disease with a good course under this treatment. In conclusion, we proposed that an antimalarial-mediated downregulation of TNFα levels in SLE patients is influenced by polymorphisms at IL-10 and TNFα promoters. Our results may thus find important clinical application through the identification of patients who are the most likely to benefit from antimalarial therapy.