Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disease characterized by multiple genetic risk factors, high levels of interferon alpha (IFN-α), and the production of autoantibodies against components of the cell nucleus. Interferon regulatory factor 5 (IRF5) is a transcription factor which induces the transcription of IFN-α and other cytokines, and genetic variants of IRF5 have been strongly linked to SLE pathogenesis. IRF5 functions downstream of Toll-like receptors and other microbial pattern-recognition receptors, and immune complexes made up of SLE-associated autoantibodies seem to function as a chronic endogenous stimulus to this pathway. In this paper, we discuss the physiologic role of IRF5 in immune defense and the ways in which IRF5 variants may contribute to the pathogenesis of human SLE. Recent data regarding the role of IRF5 in both serologic autoimmunity and the overproduction of IFN-α in human SLE are summarized. These data support a model in which SLE-risk variants of IRF5 participate in a “feed-forward” mechanism, predisposing to SLE-associated autoantibody formation, and subsequently facilitating IFN-α production downstream of Toll-like receptors stimulated by immune complexes composed of these autoantibodies.
To determine the serum levels of interferon alpha in childhood-onset systemic lupus erythematosus patients, their first-degree relatives and healthy controls and to evaluate the associations between serum interferon alpha and disease activity, laboratory findings and treatment features.
We screened consecutive childhood-onset systemic lupus erythematosus patients in a longitudinal cohort at the pediatric rheumatology unit of the State University of Campinas between 2009 and 2010. All patients demonstrated disease onset before the age of 16. Disease status was assessed according to the Systemic Lupus Erythematosus Disease Activity Index (SLEDAI) and Systemic Lupus International Collaborating Clinics/American College of Rheumatology Damage Index (SDI). Interferon alpha levels were measured using an enzyme-linked immunoabsorbent assay.
We included 57 childhood-onset systemic lupus erythematosus patients (mean age 17.33±4.50), 64 first-degree relatives (mean age 39.95±5.66), and 57 healthy (mean age 19.30±4.97) controls. Serum interferon alpha levels were significantly increased in childhood-onset systemic lupus erythematosus patients compared to their first-degree relatives and healthy controls. Interferon alpha levels were significantly increased in patients with positive dsDNA antibodies, patients with cutaneous vasculitis, patients with new malar rash and patients who were not receiving medication. Interferon alpha levels correlated with C3 levels and systemic lupus erythematosus Disease Activity Index scores. In addition, we observed an inverse correlation between patient age and interferon alpha levels.
Interferon alpha may play a role in the pathogenesis of childhood-onset systemic lupus erythematosus, especially in cutaneous manifestations and dsDNA antibody formation. The observation that interferon alpha levels are increased in patients who are not taking medication should be investigated in longitudinal studies to determine whether elevated interferon alpha levels may predict systemic lupus erythematosus flares.
Interferon alpha (IFN-α); SLEDAI; Childhood-onset; Systemic lupus erythematosus
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a severe multi-system autoimmune disease which results from both genetic predisposition and environmental factors. Many lines of investigation support interferon alpha (IFN-α) as a causal agent in human lupus, and high levels of serum IFN-α are a heritable risk factor for SLE. Interferon regulatory factors (IRFs) are a family of transcription factors involved in host defense, which can induce transcription of IFN-α and other immune response genes following activation. In SLE, circulating immune complexes which contain nucleic acid are prevalent. These complexes are recognized by endosomal Toll-like receptors, resulting in activation of downstream IRF proteins. Genetic variants in the IRF5 and IRF7 genes have been associated with SLE susceptibility, and these same variants are associated with increased serum IFN-α in SLE patients. The increase in serum IFN-α related to IRF5 and 7 genotypes is observed only in patients with particular antibody specificities. This suggests that chronic stimulation of the endosomal Toll-like receptors by autoantibody immune complexes is required for IRF SLE-risk variants to cause elevation of circulating IFN-α and subsequent risk of SLE. Recently, genetic variation in the IRF8 gene has been associated with SLE and multiple sclerosis, and studies support an impact of IRF8 genotype on the IFN-α pathway. In summary, the SLE-associated polymorphisms in the IRF family of proteins appear to be gain-of-function variants, and understanding the impact of these variants upon the IFN-α pathway in vivo may guide therapeutic strategies directed at the Toll-like receptor/IRF/IFN-α pathway in SLE.
Interferon Alpha; Genetics; Systemic Lupus Erythematosus; Interferon Regulatory Factor; Autoantibodies; Autoimmunity
Purpose of review
A combination of systemic autoimmunity and tissue response to immune injury underlie renal involvement in lupus erythematosus. In this review, we discuss recent literature investigating pathogenetic mechanisms of lupus glomerulonephritis.
In lupus glomerulonephritis, glomerular immune complexes were believed to be the primary mediators of renal disease. Recent studies make it apparent that autoantibodies of multiple specificities participate in the formation of immune complexes, deposited in the kidneys. Renal infiltration by T cells, macrophages, and dendritic cells have a dominant role in the progression of lupus glomerulonephritis leading to renal failure. Activation of Toll-like receptors modulates autoantibody production and systemic interferon responses. However, glomerular cell responses to immune injury influence disease outcome. In addition, new insights on the genetics of susceptibility to end-organ damage in lupus glomerulonephritis have been discovered. Differential glomerular responses reflected in gene expression profiles during disease progression provide potential markers for diagnosis of lupus glomerulonephritis progression and flares. In addition, studies of end-organ responses provide new targets for therapeutic interventions.
Lupus glomerulonephritis is a prototype of immune complex disease mediated by autoantibodies of multiple specificities, one of which is anti-DNA. Murine models of spontaneous systemic lupus erythematosus have been critical for understanding the underlying disease. Recent studies demonstrate that in addition to systemic autoimmunity, end-organ responses, and end-organ resistance to damage are also critical in determining disease outcome. This understanding should influence design of novel therapeutic approaches in systemic lupus erythematosus.
autoantibodies; end-organ resistance to damage; glomerular gene expression; lupus nephritis; mouse models; SLE
Type I interferons play an outstanding role in innate and adaptive immunity by enhancing functions of dendritic cells, inducing differentiation of monocytes, promoting immunoglobulin class switching in B cells and stimulating effector functions of T cells. The increased production of IFNα/β by plasmacytoid dendritic cells could be responsible for not only efficient antiviral defence, but it also may be a pathological factor in the development of various autoimmune disorders. The first evidence of a genetic link between type I interferons and autoimmune diseases was the observation that elevated IFNα activity is frequently detected in the sera of patients with systemic lupus erythematosus, and that this trait shows high heritability and familial aggregation in their first-degree healthy relatives. To date, a number of genes involved in interferon signalling have been associated with various autoimmune diseases. Patients with systemic lupus erythematosus, Sjögren's syndrome, dermatomyositis, psoriasis, and a fraction of patients with rheumatoid arthritis display a specific expression pattern of interferon-dependent genes in their leukocytes, termed the interferon signature. Here, in an attempt to understand the role of type I interferons in the pathogenesis of autoimmunity, we review the recent advances in the genetics of autoimmune diseases focusing on the association of genes involved in type I interferon pathways.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a highly heterogeneous disorder, characterized by differences in autoantibody profile, serum cytokines, and clinical manifestations. SLE-associated autoantibodies and high serum interferon alpha (IFN-α) are important heritable phenotypes in SLE which are correlated with each other, and play a role in disease pathogenesis. These two heritable risk factors are shared between ancestral backgrounds. The aim of the study was to detect genetic factors associated with autoantibody profiles and serum IFN-α in SLE.
We undertook a case-case genome-wide association study of SLE patients stratified by ancestry and extremes of phenotype in serology and serum IFN-α. Single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in seven loci were selected for follow-up in a large independent cohort of 538 SLE patients and 522 controls using a multi-step screening approach based on novel metrics and expert database review. The seven loci were: leucine-rich repeat containing 20 (LRRC20); protein phosphatase 1 H (PPM1H); lysophosphatidic acid receptor 1 (LPAR1); ankyrin repeat and sterile alpha motif domain 1A (ANKS1A); protein tyrosine phosphatase, receptor type M (PTPRM); ephrin A5 (EFNA5); and V-set and immunoglobulin domain containing 2 (VSIG2).
SNPs in the LRRC20, PPM1H, LPAR1, ANKS1A, and VSIG2 loci each demonstrated strong association with a particular serologic profile (all odds ratios > 2.2 and P < 3.5 × 10-4). Each of these serologic profiles was associated with increased serum IFN-α. SNPs in both PTPRM and LRRC20 were associated with increased serum IFN-α independent of serologic profile (P = 2.2 × 10-6 and P = 2.6 × 10-3 respectively). None of the SNPs were strongly associated with SLE in case-control analysis, suggesting that the major impact of these variants will be upon subphenotypes in SLE.
This study demonstrates the power of using serologic and cytokine subphenotypes to elucidate genetic factors involved in complex autoimmune disease. The distinct associations observed emphasize the heterogeneity of molecular pathogenesis in SLE, and the need for stratification by subphenotypes in genetic studies. We hypothesize that these genetic variants play a role in disease manifestations and severity in SLE.
Prevalence of an abnormal Papanicolaou smear was significantly increased in lupus patients in cross-sectional studies, associated with a higher prevalence of high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. The nucleic acid-specific Toll-like receptors (TLRs) locate at the endolysosomal compartments and trigger the induction of cytokines for the innate immune response. This study evaluated whether abnormal host innate immune response in lupus patients may enhance HPV persistence.
Protein levels of TLRs 3, 7, 8 and 9 in cervical epithelial cells of lupus patients and controls with or without HPV infection were assessed using flow cytometry. Characteristics associated with the differential expression of TLRs in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) were elucidated. The effect and interferon-stimulated genes (ISGs) (ISG15 and Mx-1) gene expressions were then measured in oncogenic HeLa (HPV18), CaSki (HPV) and C33A (HPV negative) cell lines using flow cytometry and quantitative real-time PCR. Ex vivo productions of cytokines and interferon-gamma (IFN-γ) upon TLR ligands stimulations were subsequently measured using cytometric bead array and ELISA.
For subjects with HPV infection, levels of TLR3 and TLR7 were significantly lower in lupus patients compared with controls. Significantly decreased TLRs 7, 8 and 9 levels were observed in HPV-negative SLE compared to healthy controls. For SLE with and without HPV infection, TLR7 and 9 levels were significantly lower in infected SLE than those in HPV-negative patients. Independent explanatory variables associated with down-regulation of TLR7 level included HPV infection and a higher cumulative dose of prednisolone; while a higher cumulative dose of hydroxychloroquine and HPV infection were associated with down-regulation of TLR9 level. In cervical cell lines, TLRs 3, 7, 8, 9 protein levels and antiviral ISG15 and Mx-1 gene expressions were inhibited in two oncogenic HPV types. Functional data showed that the induction of pro-inflammatory cytokines by TLR ligands (R837, ssRNA and ODN2395) was greatly impaired in CaSki and HeLa than C33A cells.
In conclusion, prednisolone and TLR antagonist (hydroxychloroquine) may down-regulate protein levels of TLR7 and TLR9 in lupus patients, thereby decreasing the innate immune response against HPV infection. Upon infection, HPV further down-regulate TLR7 and 9 levels for viral persistence. Furthermore, reduction of nucleic acid-sensing TLRs 7, 8 and 9 in carcinogenic HPVs ensures that the expression of inducible pro-inflammatory cytokines is minimized to prevent the expression of antiviral ISGs (ISG15 and Mx-1) on a biologically relevant antiviral response.
Tetramethylpentadecane (TMPD, or commonly known as pristane)-induced lupus is a murine model of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Renal disease and autoantibody production strictly depend on signaling through the interferon (IFN)-I receptor. The major source of IFN-I is immature monocytes bearing high levels of the surface marker Ly6C. Interferon production is mediated exclusively by signaling through TLR7 and the adapter protein MyD88. It is likely that endogenous TLR7 ligands such as components of small nuclear ribonucleoprotein complexes are involved in triggering disease. Lupus autoantibodies are produced in ectopic lymphoid tissue developing in response to TMPD. This model is well suited for examining links between dysregulated IFN-I production and the pathogenesis of human SLE, which like TMPD-lupus, is associated with high levels of IFN-I.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a prototypic multisystem autoimmune disorder where interplay of environmental and genetic risk factors leads to progressive loss of tolerance to nuclear antigens over time, finally culminating in clinical disease. The heterogeneity of clinical manifestations and the disease’s unpredictable course characterized by flares and remissions are very likely a reflection of heterogeneity at the origin of disease, with a final common pathway leading to loss of tolerance to nuclear antigens. Impaired clearance of immune complexes and apoptotic material and production of autoantibodies have long been recognized as major pathogenic events in this disease. Over the past decade the type I interferon cytokine family has been postulated to play a central role in SLE pathogenesis, by promoting feedback loops progressively disrupting peripheral immune tolerance and driving disease activity. The identification of key molecules involved in the pathogenesis of SLE will not only improve our understanding of this complex disease, but also help to identify novel targets for biological intervention.
autoantibody; autoantigen; B cells; complement; dendritic cells; genetics; immune complex; interferon; pathogenesis; systemic lupus erythematosus; Toll-like receptor
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a complex autoimmune disease involving multiple organs. The disease is characterized by the production of pathogenic autoantibodies to DNA and certain nuclear antigens, chronic inflammation, and immune dysregulation. Genetic studies involving SLE patients and mouse models have indicated that multiple lupus susceptible genes contribute to the disease phenotype. Notably, the development of SLE in patients and in certain mouse models exhibits a strong sex bias. In addition, several lines of evidence indicates that activation of interferon-α (IFN-α) signaling in immune cells and alterations in the expression of certain immunomodulatory cytokines contribute to lupus pathogenesis. Studies have implicated factors, such as the X chromosomal gene dosage effect and the sex hormones, in gender bias in SLE. However, the molecular mechanisms remain unclear. Additionally, it remains unclear whether these factors influence the “IFN-signature,” which is associated with SLE. In this regard, a mutually positive regulatory feedback loop between IFNs and estrogen receptor-α (ERα) has been identified in immune cells. Moreover, studies indicate that the expression of certain IFN-inducible p200-family proteins that act as innate immune sensors for cytosolic DNA is differentially regulated by sex hormones. In this review, we discuss how the modulation of the expression of the p200-family proteins in immune cells by sex hormones and IFNs contributes to sex bias in SLE. An improved understanding of the regulation and roles of the p200-family proteins in immune cells is critical to understand lupus pathogenesis as well as response (or the lack of it) to various therapies.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), a chronic multisystem autoimmune disease with a broad range of clinical manifestations, is associated with accelerated atherosclerosis (AT) and increased risk of cardiovascular complications. Relevant factors directly influencing the development of AT comprise immune complex generation, complement activation, and changes in the production and activity of a complex network of cytokines, including type I and II interferons, B lymphocyte stimulator (BLyS), TNFα, IL-6, IL-17 and migration macrophage inhibitor (MIF). Autoantibodies, also responsible for cytokine expression and activation, play a supplementary key role in the development of AT. Genomic and proteomic studies have contributed to the discovery of genes and proteins involved in AT, including some that may be suitable to be used as biomarkers. All that data has allowed the development of new drugs, most of them evaluated in clinical trials: inhibitors of IFN and TNFα, B cell directed therapies, synthetic oligodeoxynucleotides, intravenous immunoglobulin, or statins. The focus of the present paper is to summarize recent evidence showing the role of cytokines in the development of AT in SLE and the rationale, and safety concerns, in the use of combined therapy to prevent AT and cardiovascular disease.
Lupus nephritis affects up to 70% of patients with systemic lupus erythematosus and is a major cause of morbidity and mortality. It is characterized by a breakdown of immune tolerance, production of autoantibodies, and deposition of immune complexes within the kidney parenchyma, resulting in local inflammation and subsequent organ damage. To date, numerous mediators of inflammation have been implicated in the development and progression of lupus nephritis, and these include cytokines, chemokines, and glycosaminoglycans. Of these, type I interferons (IFNs) can increase both gene and protein expression of cytokines and chemokines associated with lupus susceptibility, and interleukin-6 (IL-6), tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) and hyaluronan have been shown to elicit both pro- and anti-inflammatory effects on infiltrating and resident renal cells depending on the status of their microenvironment. Expression of IL-6, TNF-α, type I IFNs, and hyaluronan are increased in the kidneys of patients and mice with active lupus nephritis and have been shown to contribute to disease pathogenesis. There is also evidence that despite clinical remission, ongoing inflammatory processes may occur within the glomerular and tubulointerstitial compartments of the kidney, which further promote kidney injury. In this review, we provide an overview of the synthesis and putative roles of IL-6, TNF-α, IFN-α, and hyaluronan in the pathogenesis of lupus nephritis focusing on their effects on human mesangial cells and proximal renal tubular epithelial cells.
Both genetic and environmental interactions affect systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) development and pathogenesis. One known genetic factor associated with lupus is a haplotype of the interferon regulatory factor 5 (IRF5) gene. Analysis of global gene expression microarray data using gene set enrichment analysis identified multiple interferon- and inflammation-related gene sets significantly overrepresented in cells with the risk haplotype. Pathway analysis using expressed genes from the significant gene sets impacted by the IRF5 risk haplotype confirmed significant correlation with the interferon pathway, Toll-like receptor pathway, and the B-cell receptor pathway. SLE patients with the IRF5 risk haplotype have a heightened interferon signature, even in an unstimulated state (P = 0.011), while patients with the IRF5 protective haplotype have a B cell interferon signature similar to that of controls. These results identify multiple genes in functionally significant pathways which are affected by IRF5 genotype. They also establish the IRF5 risk haplotype as a key determinant of not only the interferon response, but also other B-cell pathways involved in SLE.
Interferon-α plays a crucial role in the pathogenesis of systemic lupus erythematosus. Nevertheless, the different human cell types producing this cytokine as well as the stimuli inducing its production have not been completely characterized. So far, a subpopulation of dendritic cells activated by immune complexes has been identified as major producers of interferon-α in patients with lupus. However, those cells represent a minor population and some studies have reported the secretion of interferon-α by other cells. On the other hand, more than 50% of blood leukocytes are neutrophils and their functions are still not fully understood. Recent data suggest that neutrophils, though usually not considered interferon-α-producing cells, may represent an unexpected source of this cytokine in response to some lupus stimuli.
Systemic lupus erythematosus is a systemic autoimmune disease characterized by the production of antinuclear antibodies (ANAs). Recent research into human and murine lupus suggests that disease susceptibility results from genetic polymorphisms regulating immune responses as well as impairing the clearance of apoptotic cells. Because the products of dead cells, including nucleic acids, have immunologic activity, this situation can promote antigen-driven ANA responses. Furthermore, immune complexes of ANAs can drive the production of proinflammatory cytokines, inducing the 'interferon signature', and intensifying disease. Together, these findings point to new genetic and immunologic markers of disease as well as targets for new therapies.
The characteristic serologic feature of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is autoantibodies against one’s own nucleic acid or nucleic acid-binding proteins – DNA and RNA-binding nuclear proteins. Circulating autoantibodies can deposit in the tissue, causing inflammation and production of cytokines such as type 1 interferon (IFN). Investigations in human patients and animal models have implicated environmental as well as genetic factors in the biology of the SLE autoimmune response. Viral/Bacterial nucleic acid is a potent stimulant of innate immunity by both toll-like receptor (TLR) and non-TLR signaling cascades. Additionally, foreign DNA may act as an immunogen to drive an antigen-specific antibody response. Self nucleic acid is normally restricted to the nucleus or the mitochondria, away from the DNA/RNA sensors, and mechanisms exist to differentiate between foreign and self nucleic acid. In normal immunity, a diverse range of DNA and RNA sensors in different cell types form a dynamic and integrated molecular network to prevent viral infection. In SLE, pathologic activation of these sensors occurs via immune complexes consisting of autoantibodies bound to DNA or to nucleic acid-protein complexes. In this review, we will discuss recent studies outlining how mismanaged nucleic acid sensing networks promote autoimmunity and result in the over-production of type I IFN. This information is critical for improving therapeutic strategies for SLE disease.
systemic lupus erythematosus; nucleic acid sensor; type 1 interferon; TLR; DNA; RNA
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is diagnosed by a spectrum of clinical manifestations and autoantibodies associated with abnormal expression of Type I interferon (IFN-I) stimulated genes (ISGs). The role of IFN-I in the pathogenesis of SLE remains uncertain, partly due to the lack of suitable animal models. The objective of this study was to examine the role of IFN-I signaling in the pathogenesis of murine lupus induced by 2, 6, 10, 14 tetramethylpentadecane (TMPD).
129Sv IFN-I receptor deficient (IFNAR−/−) and control 129Sv mice were treated i.p. with TMPD. The expression of ISGs was measured by real-time PCR. Autoantibody production was evaluated by immunofluorescence and ELISA. Proteinuria and renal glomerular cellularity were measured and renal immune complexes were examined by immunofluorescence.
Increased ISG expression was seen in peripheral blood of TMPD-treated wild type but not IFNAR−/− mice. TMPD did not induce lupus-specific autoantibodies (anti-nRNP/Sm, -dsDNA) in IFNAR−/− mice, whereas 129Sv controls developed these specificities. Although glomerular immune complexes were present in IFNAR−/− mice, proteinuria and glomerular hypercellularity did not develop, unlike TMPD-treated controls. Thus, consistent with the association of increased ISG expression with lupus-specific autoantibodies, and nephritis in humans, these clinical and serological manifestations were strongly dependent on IFNAR signaling in TMPD-treated mice.
Signaling via the IFNAR is central to the pathogenesis of autoantibodies and glomerulonephritis in TMPD-lupus, consistent with a similar role in human SLE. TMPD-lupus is the first animal model shown to recapitulate the interferon signature in peripheral blood.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a chronic autoimmune disease that is characterized by a defect in immune tolerance and exacerbated by both the innate and adaptive arms of the immune response. SLE-associated immune hyperactivity can be detected systemically as elevations in levels of cytokines along with their upregulated receptors expressed by hematopoietic cells. Importantly, increased levels of cytokines and their receptors can be observed in target organs, and it is clear that they have important roles in disease pathogenesis. Recent therapeutic strategies have focused on proximal cytokines, such as interferon-α, interleukin (IL)-1, IL-6, and tumor necrosis factor as a result of the efficacious use of biologic agents for intervention in rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases. Despite the recent advances in understanding the cytokine networks involved in autoimmune diseases and more specifically in SLE, the diagnosis and prognosis of lupus remain a challenge. Lupus is heterogeneous and unpredictable; moreover, the frequency and severity of flares can be difficult to determine and treat. A better understanding of the regulation of expression of key cytokines and their receptors can likely provide important clues to the pathogenic mechanisms underlying specific forms of SLE, and pave the way toward more effective therapeutics.
Growing evidence over the last few years suggests a central role of type I IFN pathway in the pathogenesis of systemic autoimmune disorders. Data from clinical and genetic studies in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and lupus-prone mouse models, indicates that the type I interferon system may play a pivotal role in the pathogenesis of several lupus and associated clinical features, such as nephritis, neuropsychiatric and cutaneous lupus, premature atherosclerosis as well as lupus-specific autoantibodies particularly against ribonucleoproteins. In the current paper, our aim is to summarize the latest findings supporting the association of type I IFN pathway with specific clinical manifestations in the setting of SLE providing insights on the potential use of type I IFN as a therapeutic target.
We evaluated the cellular immunity of 408 clinically stratified subjects at risk for acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), to define the role of interferon-alpha production deficits in the pathogenesis of opportunistic infections (OI). We followed 115 prospectively for up to 45 mo. Onset of OI was associated with, and predicted by, deficiency both of interferon-alpha generation in vitro, and of circulating Leu-3a+ cells. Interferon-alpha production is an index of the function of certain non-T, non-B, large granular lymphocytes (LGL) that are independent of T cell help. Leu-3a+ cell counts are a marker of T cell function. OI did not usually develop until both of these mutually independent immune functions were simultaneously critically depressed, leading to a synergistic interaction. These data suggest that the AIDS virus affects a subset of LGL, and that cytokine production by these cells is an important component of the host defense against intracellular pathogens that becomes crucial in the presence of severe T cell immunodeficiency.
Excess type-I interferons (IFN-I) have been linked to the pathogenesis of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Therapeutic use of IFN-I can trigger the onset of SLE and most lupus patients display upregulation of a group of interferon stimulated genes (ISGs). While this “interferon signature” has been linked with disease activity, kidney involvement, and autoantibody production, the source of IFN-I production in SLE remains unclear. Tetramethylpentadecane (TMPD)-induced lupus is at present the only model of SLE associated with excess IFN-I production and ISG expression. Here we demonstrate that TMPD treatment induces an accumulation of immature Ly6Chi monocytes, which are a major source of IFN-I in this lupus model. Importantly, they were distinct from interferon-producing dendritic cells. The expression of IFN-I and ISGs was rapidly abolished by monocyte depletion whereas systemic ablation of dendritic cells (DCs) had little effect. In addition, there was a striking correlation between the numbers of Ly6Chi monocytes and the production of lupus autoantibodies. Therefore, immature monocytes rather than DCs appear to be the primary source of IFN-I in this model of IFN-I dependent lupus.
autoimmunity; systemic lupus erythematosus; monocytes
More than half of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) patients show evidence of excess type I interferon (IFN-I) production, a phenotype associated with renal disease and certain autoantibodies. However, detection of IFN-I proteins in serum is unreliable, and the measurement of interferon-stimulated gene (ISG) expression is expensive and time consuming. The aim of this study was to identify a surrogate marker for IFN-I activity in clinical samples for monitoring disease activity and response to therapy.
Monocyte surface expression of Fcγ receptors (FcγRs), chemokine receptors, and activation markers were analyzed with flow cytometry in whole blood from patients with SLE and healthy controls. FcγR expression also was measured in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from healthy controls cultured with Toll-like receptor (TLR) agonists, cytokines, or serum from SLE patients. Expression of ISGs was analyzed with real-time PCR.
Circulating CD14+ monocytes from SLE patients showed increased surface expression of FcγRI (CD64). The mean fluorescent intensity of CD64 staining correlated highly with the ISG expression (MX1, IFI44, and Ly6E). In vitro, IFN-I as well as TLR7 and TLR9 agonists, induced CD64 expression on monocytes from healthy controls. Exposure of monocytes from healthy controls to SLE sera also upregulated the expression of CD64 in an IFN-I-dependent manner. Decreased CD64 expression was observed concomitant with the reduction of ISG expression after high-dose corticosteroid therapy.
Expression of CD64 on circulating monocytes is IFN-I inducible and highly correlated with ISG expression. Flow-cytometry analysis of CD64 expression on circulating monocytes is a convenient and rapid approach for estimating IFN-I levels in SLE patients.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disease characterized by the production of autoantibodies to certain cellular macromolecules, such as the small nuclear ribonucleoprotein particles (snRNPs), which had been considered to be passive targets of the autoimmune response. SLE is also characterized by the increased expression of type I interferon (IFN), which appears to be associated with the development and severity of disease. Here, we show that specific, highly conserved RNA sequences within snRNPs can stimulate Toll-like receptors (TLRs) 7 and 8 as well as activate innate immune cells, such as plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDCs), which respond by secreting high levels of type I IFN. SLE patient sera containing autoantibodies to snRNPs form immune complexes that are taken up through the Fc receptor γRII and efficiently stimulate pDCs to secrete type I IFNs. These results demonstrate that a prototype autoantigen, the snRNP, can directly stimulate innate immunity and suggest that autoantibodies against snRNP may initiate SLE by stimulating TLR7/8.
Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) infection has been linked to systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) as demonstrated by the presence of increased seroprevalence and elevated viral loads, but the mechanism of this linkage has not been elucidated. Increased IFN-α levels and signatures, associated with innate immune responses, have been found in patients with SLE. Plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDC) are innate immune cells that mediate viral immunity by producing large quantities of interferon alpha (IFN-α), but the role they play during infection with EBV remains unclear. To address this issue, we investigated the ability of EBV to promote IFN-α production by pDC in healthy subjects.
Human pDC were sorted and cultured in the presence of EBV, EBV small RNA (EBER), and EBV double-stranded DNA (dsDNA). IFN-α production by pDC was measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), with activation of these cells measured by flow cytometry.
We demonstrate that EBV DNA and RNA promote IFN-α production by human pDC through engagement of Toll-like receptor (TLR) 9 and TLR7, respectively, with initial viral recognition by pDC mediated by binding to major histocompatibility (MHC) class II molecules.
These data demonstrate that MHC class II-specific engagement by virus and subsequent viral nucleic acid recognition mediates IFN-α production by pDC. Our results suggest that elevated levels of IFN-α found in lupus patients may be a result of aberrantly controlled chronic viral infection.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a chronic autoimmune disease characterized by the production of autoantibodies that can form immune complexes and deposit in tissues, causing inflammation and organ damage. There is evidence that interferons and some interleukins can have an active role in the pathogenesis of SLE and can contribute significantly to the immune imbalance in the disease, whereas the role of some cytokines (such as TNF) is still debated. This review discusses the activity of several cytokines in SLE, their effects on the immune cells in relation to the disease pathogenesis, and the promise and limitations of cytokine-based therapies in clinical trials for lupus patients.