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1.  Elevated Serum Levels of Interferon-Regulated Chemokines Are Biomarkers for Active Human Systemic Lupus Erythematosus 
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(12):e491.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a serious systemic autoimmune disorder that affects multiple organ systems and is characterized by unpredictable flares of disease. Recent evidence indicates a role for type I interferon (IFN) in SLE pathogenesis; however, the downstream effects of IFN pathway activation are not well understood. Here we test the hypothesis that type I IFN-regulated proteins are present in the serum of SLE patients and correlate with disease activity.
Methods and Findings
We performed a comprehensive survey of the serologic proteome in human SLE and identified dysregulated levels of 30 cytokines, chemokines, growth factors, and soluble receptors. Particularly striking was the highly coordinated up-regulation of 12 inflammatory and/or homeostatic chemokines, molecules that direct the movement of leukocytes in the body. Most of the identified chemokines were inducible by type I IFN, and their levels correlated strongly with clinical and laboratory measures of disease activity.
These data suggest that severely disrupted chemokine gradients may contribute to the systemic autoimmunity observed in human SLE. Furthermore, the levels of serum chemokines may serve as convenient biomarkers for disease activity in lupus.
A comprehensive survey of the serologic proteome in human SLE suggests that severely disrupted chemokine gradients may contribute to the systemic autoimmunity observed.
Editors' Summary
The term “lupus,” meaning wolf in Latin, is often used as an abbreviation for the disease systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). The name may have been given because some people with SLE have a rash that slightly resembles a wolf's face. The condition affects around 50 to 100 people per 100,000, and is much more common in women than men. SLE is a complicated disease that comes about when antibodies inappropriately attack the body's own connective tissues, although it is not known why this happens. Symptoms vary between different people; the disease may get better and then worse, without explanation; and can affect many different organs including the skin, joints, kidneys, blood cells, and brain and nervous system. SLE is difficult for doctors to diagnose. Although the disease cannot be cured, patients who are diagnosed with SLE can be treated for their symptoms, and the right management can slow progress of the disease. One area of SLE research focuses on finding “molecular markers” (e.g., proteins or other compounds) that could be tested for in the blood. Researchers hope this would help doctors to more accurately diagnose SLE initially, and then also help to track progress in a patient's condition.
Why Was This Study Done?
“Gene expression” is a term meaning the process by which a gene's DNA sequence is converted into the structures and functions of a cell. These investigators had found in previous studies that certain genes were more “highly expressed” in the blood cells of patients with SLE. Some of these genes were already known to be regulated by interferons (a group of proteins, produced by certain blood cells, that are important in helping to defend against viral infections). The investigators performing this study wanted to understand more clearly the role of interferon in SLE and to see whether the genes that are more highly expressed in patients with SLE go on to produce higher levels of protein, which might then provide useful markers for monitoring the condition.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
This research project was a “case-control” study, in which the researchers compared the levels of certain proteins in the blood of people who had SLE with the levels in people who did not have the condition. Thirty people were recruited as cases, from a group of patients with SLE who have been under evaluation at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine since 1987. Fifteen controls were recruited from a group of healthy people of similar age and sex as the patients with SLE; everyone involved in the study gave their consent to take part. Blood samples were taken from each individual, and the serum (liquid component of blood) was separated out. The serum levels of 160 different blood proteins were then measured. When comparing levels of blood proteins between the groups, the researchers found that 30 specific proteins were present at higher or lower levels in the SLE-affected patients. Many of these proteins are cytokines, which are regulated by interferons and are involved in the process of “signaling” within the immune system. A few proteins were found at lower levels. Levels of the interferon-regulated proteins were, on average, seen at higher levels in people whose condition was more severe.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These results suggest that patients with SLE are likely to have a very different pattern of regulation of certain proteins within the blood, particularly the proteins involved in signaling within the immune system. The authors propose that these proteins may be involved in the progression of the disease. There is also the possibility that some of these proteins may prove useful in diagnostic tests, or in tests for monitoring how the disease progresses. However, before any such tests could be used in clinical practice, they would need to be further developed and then thoroughly tested in clinical trials.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
Patient information from the UK National Health Service on systemic lupus erythematosus
Patient handout from the US National Institutes of Health
MedlinePLUS encyclopedia entry on lupus
Information on lupus from the UK Arthritis Research Campaign
PMCID: PMC1702557  PMID: 17177599
2.  Preferential Binding to Elk-1 by SLE-Associated IL10 Risk Allele Upregulates IL10 Expression 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(10):e1003870.
Immunoregulatory cytokine interleukin-10 (IL-10) is elevated in sera from patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) correlating with disease activity. The established association of IL10 with SLE and other autoimmune diseases led us to fine map causal variant(s) and to explore underlying mechanisms. We assessed 19 tag SNPs, covering the IL10 gene cluster including IL19, IL20 and IL24, for association with SLE in 15,533 case and control subjects from four ancestries. The previously reported IL10 variant, rs3024505 located at 1 kb downstream of IL10, exhibited the strongest association signal and was confirmed for association with SLE in European American (EA) (P = 2.7×10−8, OR = 1.30), but not in non-EA ancestries. SNP imputation conducted in EA dataset identified three additional SLE-associated SNPs tagged by rs3024505 (rs3122605, rs3024493 and rs3024495 located at 9.2 kb upstream, intron 3 and 4 of IL10, respectively), and SLE-risk alleles of these SNPs were dose-dependently associated with elevated levels of IL10 mRNA in PBMCs and circulating IL-10 protein in SLE patients and controls. Using nuclear extracts of peripheral blood cells from SLE patients for electrophoretic mobility shift assays, we identified specific binding of transcription factor Elk-1 to oligodeoxynucleotides containing the risk (G) allele of rs3122605, suggesting rs3122605 as the most likely causal variant regulating IL10 expression. Elk-1 is known to be activated by phosphorylation and nuclear localization to induce transcription. Of interest, phosphorylated Elk-1 (p-Elk-1) detected only in nuclear extracts of SLE PBMCs appeared to increase with disease activity. Co-expression levels of p-Elk-1 and IL-10 were elevated in SLE T, B cells and monocytes, associated with increased disease activity in SLE B cells, and were best downregulated by ERK inhibitor. Taken together, our data suggest that preferential binding of activated Elk-1 to the IL10 rs3122605-G allele upregulates IL10 expression and confers increased risk for SLE in European Americans.
Author Summary
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), a debilitating autoimmune disease characterized by the production of pathogenic autoantibodies, has a strong genetic basis. Variants of the IL10 gene, which encodes cytokine interleukin-10 (IL-10) with known function of promoting B cell hyperactivity and autoantibody production, are associated with SLE and other autoimmune diseases, and serum IL-10 levels are elevated in SLE patients correlating with increased disease activity. In this study, to discover SLE-predisposing causal variant(s), we assessed variants within the genomic region containing IL10 and its gene family member IL19, IL20 and IL24 for association with SLE in case and control subjects from diverse ancestries. We identified SLE-associated SNP rs3122605 located at 9.2 kb upstream of IL10 as the most likely causal variant in subjects of European ancestry. The SLE-risk allele of rs3122605 was dose-dependently associated with elevated IL10 expression at both mRNA and protein levels in peripheral blood samples from SLE patients and controls, which could be explained, at least in part, by its preferential binding to Elk-1, a transcription factor activated in B cells during active disease of SLE patients. Elk-1-mediated IL-10 overexpression could be downregulated by inhibiting activation of mitogen-activated protein kinases, suggesting a potential therapeutic target for SLE.
PMCID: PMC3794920  PMID: 24130510
3.  Inflammatory expression profiles in monocyte-to-macrophage differentiation in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus and relationship with atherosclerosis 
Arthritis Research & Therapy  2014;16(4):R147.
Our objectives were to examine mononuclear cell gene expression profiles in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and healthy controls and to compare subsets with and without atherosclerosis to determine which genes’ expression is related to atherosclerosis in SLE.
Monocytes were obtained from 20 patients with SLE and 16 healthy controls and were in vitro-differentiated into macrophages. Subjects also underwent laboratory and imaging studies to evaluate for subclinical atherosclerosis. Whole-genome RNA expression microarray was performed, and gene expression was examined.
Gene expression profiling was used to identify gene signatures that differentiated patients from controls and individuals with and without atherosclerosis. In monocytes, 9 out of 20 patients with SLE had an interferon-inducible signature compared with 2 out of 16 controls. By looking at gene expression during monocyte-to-macrophage differentiation, we identified pathways which were differentially regulated between SLE and controls and identified signatures based on relevant intracellular signaling molecules which could differentiate SLE patients with atherosclerosis from controls. Among patients with SLE, we used a previously defined 344-gene atherosclerosis signature in monocyte-to-macrophage differentiation to identify patient subgroups with and without atherosclerosis. Interestingly, this signature further classified patients on the basis of the presence of SLE disease activity and cardiovascular risk factors.
Many genes were differentially regulated during monocyte-to-macrophage differentiation in SLE patients compared with controls. The expression of these genes in mononuclear cells is important in the pathogenesis of SLE, and molecular profiling using gene expression can help stratify SLE patients who may be at risk for development of atherosclerosis.
PMCID: PMC4227297  PMID: 25011540
4.  Estradiol Differentially Regulates Calreticulin: A Potential Link with Abnormal T Cell Function in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus? 
Lupus  2013;22(6):583-596.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disease that affects women nine times more often than men. The present study investigates estradiol-dependent control of the calcium buffering protein, calreticulin, to gain further insight into the molecular basis of abnormal T cell signaling in SLE T cells.
T cells were purified from blood samples obtained from healthy females and SLE patients. Calreticulin expression was quantified by real time polymerase chain amplification. Calreticulin and estrogen receptor-α were co-precipitated and analyzed by Western blotting to determine if the proteins associate in T cells.
Calreticulin expression increased (p= 0.034)in activated control T cells, while estradiol decreased (p = 0.044) calreticulin in resting T cells. Calreticulin expression decreased in activated SLE T cell samples and increased in approximately 50% of resting T cell samples. Plasma estradiol was similar (p > 0.05) among SLE patients and control volunteers. Estrogen receptor-αand calreticulin co-precipitated from nuclear and cytoplasmic T cell compartments.
The results indicate that estradiol tightly regulates calreticulin expression in normal human T cells and the dynamics are different between activated and resting T cells. The absence of this tight regulation in SLE T cells could contribute to abnormal T cell function.
PMCID: PMC4072130  PMID: 23535532
SLE; human T cells; estradiol; calreticulin; estrogen receptor-α
5.  Activation of the Interferon Pathway is Dependent Upon Autoantibodies in African-American SLE Patients, but Not in European-American SLE Patients 
Background: In systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), antibodies directed at RNA-binding proteins (anti-RBP) are associated with high serum type I interferon (IFN), which plays an important role in SLE pathogenesis. African-Americans (AA) are more likely to develop SLE, and SLE is also more severe in this population. We hypothesized that peripheral blood gene expression patterns would differ between AA and European-American (EA) SLE patients, and between those with anti-RBP antibodies and those who lack these antibodies.
Methods: Whole blood RNA from 33 female SLE patients and 16 matched female controls from AA and EA ancestral backgrounds was analyzed on Affymetrix Gene 1.0 ST gene expression arrays. Ingenuity Pathway Analysis was used to compare the top differentially expressed canonical pathways amongst the sample groups. An independent cohort of 116 SLE patients was used to replicate findings using quantitative real-time PCR (qPCR).
Results: Both AA and EA patients with positive anti-RBP antibodies showed over-expression of similar IFN-related canonical pathways, such as IFN Signaling (P = 1.3 × 10−7 and 6.3 × 10−11 in AA vs. EA respectively), Antigen Presenting Pathway (P = 1.8 × 10−5 and 2.5 × 10−6), and a number of pattern recognition receptor pathways. In anti-RBP negative (RBP−) patients, EA subjects demonstrated similar IFN-related pathway activation, whereas no IFN-related pathways were detected in RBP−AA patients. qPCR validation confirmed similar results.
Conclusion: Our data show that IFN-induced gene expression is completely dependent on the presence of autoantibodies in AA SLE patients but not in EA patients. This molecular heterogeneity suggests differences in IFN-pathway activation between ancestral backgrounds in SLE. This heterogeneity may be clinically important, as therapeutics targeting this pathway are being developed.
PMCID: PMC3787392  PMID: 24101921
systemic lupus erythematosus; interferon alpha; autoantibodies; ancestral background; interferon gamma
6.  Myeloid Dendritic Cells from B6.NZM Sle1/Sle2/Sle3 Lupus-prone Mice express an Interferon Signature that Precedes Disease Onset 
Patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) show an over-expression of Type I Interferon (IFN) responsive genes called “Interferon Signature”. We found that the B6.NZMSle1/Sle2/Sle3 (Sle1,2,3) lupus-prone mice also express an Interferon Signature compared to non autoimmune C57BL/6 mice. In vitro, myeloid dendritic cells (mDCs)(GM-CSF bone marrow-derived BMDCs) from Sle1,2,3 mice constitutively over-expressed IFN responsive genes such as IFNb, Oas-3, Mx-1, ISG-15 and CXCL10, and the members of IFN signaling pathway STAT1, STAT2, and IRF7. The Interferon Signature was similar in Sle1,2,3 BMDCs from young, pre-autoimmune mice and from mice with high titers of autoantibodies, suggesting that the Interferon Signature in mDCs precedes disease onset and it is independent from the autoantibodies. Sle1,2,3 BMDCs hyper-responded to stimulation with IFNa and the TLR7 and TLR9 agonists R848 and CpGs. We propose that this hyper-response is induced by the Interferon Signature and only partially contributes to the Signature, since oligonucleotides inhibitory for TLR7 and TLR9 only partially suppressed the constitutive Interferon Signature and pre-exposure to IFNa induced the same hyper-response in wild type BMDCs than in Sle1,2,3 BMDCs. In vivo, mDCs and with lesser extent T and B cells from young pre-diseased Sle1,2,3 mice also expressed the Interferon Signature, although they lacked the strength that BMDCs showed in vitro. Sle1,2,3 plasmacytoid DCs expressed the Interferon Signature in vitro but not in vivo, suggesting that mDCs may be more relevant before disease onset. We propose that Sle1,2,3 mice are useful tools to study the role of the Interferon Signature in lupus pathogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3381850  PMID: 22661089
Myeloid Dendritic cells; Type I Interferon; systemic lupus erythematosus; TLR; gene expression
7.  Dysfunctional interferon-α production by peripheral plasmacytoid dendritic cells upon Toll-like receptor-9 stimulation in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus 
It is well known that interferon (IFN)-α is important to the pathogenesis of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). However, several reports have indicated that the number of IFN-α producing cells are decreased or that their function is defective in patients with SLE. We studied the function of plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDCs) under persistent stimulation of Toll-like receptor (TLR)9 via a TLR9 ligand (CpG ODN2216) or SLE serum.
The concentrations of IFN-α were determined in serum and culture supernatant of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from SLE patients and healthy controls after stimulation with CpG ODN2216 or SLE serum. The numbers of circulating pDCs were analyzed by fluoresence-activated cell sorting analysis. pDCs were treated with CpG ODN2216 and SLE serum repeatedly, and levels of produced IFN-α were measured. The expression of IFN-α signature genes and inhibitory molecules of TLR signaling were examined in PBMCs from SLE patients and healthy control individuals.
Although there was no significant difference in serum concentration of IFN-α and number of circulating pDCs between SLE patients and healthy control individuals, the IFN-α producing capacity of PBMCs was significantly reduced in SLE patients. Interestingly, the degree which TLR9 ligand-induced IFN-α production in SLE PBMCs was inversely correlated with the SLE serum-induced production of IFN-α in healthy PMBCs. Because repeated stimulation pDCs with TLR9 ligands showed decreased level of IFN-α production, continuous TLR9 stimulation may lead to decreased production of IFN-α in SLE PBMCs. In addition, PBMCs isolated from SLE patients exhibited higher expression of IFN-α signature genes and inhibitory molecules of TLR signaling, indicating that these cells had already undergone IFN-α stimulation and had become desensitized to TLR signaling.
We suggest that the persistent presence of endogenous IFN-α inducing factors induces TLR tolerance in pDCs of SLE patients, leading to impaired production of IFN-α.
PMCID: PMC2453773  PMID: 18321389
8.  MicroRNA-3148 Modulates Allelic Expression of Toll-Like Receptor 7 Variant Associated with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus 
PLoS Genetics  2013;9(2):e1003336.
We previously reported that the G allele of rs3853839 at 3′untranslated region (UTR) of Toll-like receptor 7 (TLR7) was associated with elevated transcript expression and increased risk for systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) in 9,274 Eastern Asians [P = 6.5×10−10, odds ratio (OR) (95%CI) = 1.27 (1.17–1.36)]. Here, we conducted trans-ancestral fine-mapping in 13,339 subjects including European Americans, African Americans, and Amerindian/Hispanics and confirmed rs3853839 as the only variant within the TLR7-TLR8 region exhibiting consistent and independent association with SLE (Pmeta = 7.5×10−11, OR = 1.24 [1.18–1.34]). The risk G allele was associated with significantly increased levels of TLR7 mRNA and protein in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) and elevated luciferase activity of reporter gene in transfected cells. TLR7 3′UTR sequence bearing the non-risk C allele of rs3853839 matches a predicted binding site of microRNA-3148 (miR-3148), suggesting that this microRNA may regulate TLR7 expression. Indeed, miR-3148 levels were inversely correlated with TLR7 transcript levels in PBMCs from SLE patients and controls (R2 = 0.255, P = 0.001). Overexpression of miR-3148 in HEK-293 cells led to significant dose-dependent decrease in luciferase activity for construct driven by TLR7 3′UTR segment bearing the C allele (P = 0.0003). Compared with the G-allele construct, the C-allele construct showed greater than two-fold reduction of luciferase activity in the presence of miR-3148. Reduced modulation by miR-3148 conferred slower degradation of the risk G-allele containing TLR7 transcripts, resulting in elevated levels of gene products. These data establish rs3853839 of TLR7 as a shared risk variant of SLE in 22,613 subjects of Asian, EA, AA, and Amerindian/Hispanic ancestries (Pmeta = 2.0×10−19, OR = 1.25 [1.20–1.32]), which confers allelic effect on transcript turnover via differential binding to the epigenetic factor miR-3148.
Author Summary
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a debilitating autoimmune disease contributed to by excessive innate immune activation involving toll-like receptors (TLRs, particularly TLR7/8/9) and type I interferon (IFN) signaling pathways. TLR7 responds against RNA–containing nuclear antigens and activates IFN-α pathway, playing a pivotal role in the development of SLE. While a genomic duplication of Tlr7 promotes lupus-like disease in the Y-linked autoimmune accelerator (Yaa) murine model, the lack of common copy number variations at TLR7 in humans led us to identify a functional single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP), rs3853839 at 3′ UTR of the TLR7 gene, associated with SLE susceptibility in Eastern Asians. In this study, we fine-mapped the TLR7-TLR8 region and confirmed rs3853839 exhibiting the strongest association with SLE in European Americans, African Americans, and Amerindian/Hispanics. Individuals carrying the risk G allele of rs3853839 exhibited increased TLR7 expression at the both mRNA and protein level and decreased transcript degradation. MicroRNA-3148 (miR-3148) downregulated the expression of non-risk allele (C) containing transcripts preferentially, suggesting a likely mechanism for increased TLR7 levels in risk-allele carriers. This trans-ancestral mapping provides evidence for the global association with SLE risk at rs3853839, which resides in a microRNA–gene regulatory site affecting TLR7 expression.
PMCID: PMC3585142  PMID: 23468661
9.  The granulocyte colony stimulating factor pathway regulates autoantibody production in a murine induced model of systemic lupus erythematosus 
An NZB-derived genetic locus (Sle2c2) that suppresses autoantibody production in a mouse model of induced systemic lupus erythematosus contains a polymorphism in the gene encoding the G-CSF receptor. This study was designed to test the hypothesis that the Sle2c2 suppression is associated with an impaired G-CSF receptor function that can be overcome by exogenous G-CSF.
Leukocytes from B6.Sle2c2 and B6 congenic mice, which carry a different allele of the G-CSF receptor, were compared for their responses to G-CSF. Autoantibody production was induced with the chronic graft-versus-host-disease (cGVHD) model by adoptive transfer of B6.bm12 splenocytes. Different treatment regimens varying the amount and frequency of G-CSF (Neulasta®) or carrier control were tested on cGVHD outcomes. Autoantibody production, immune cell activation, and reactive oxygen species (ROS) production were compared between the two strains with the various treatments. In addition, the effect of G-CSF treatment was examined on the production autoantibodies in the B6.Sle1.Sle2.Sle3 (B6.TC) spontaneous model of lupus.
B6.Sle2c2 and B6 leukocytes responded differently to G-CSF. G-CSF binding by B6.Sle2c2 leukocytes was reduced as compared to B6, which was associated with a reduced expansion in response to in vivo G-CSF treatment. G-CSF in vivo treatment also failed to mobilize bone-marrow B6.Sle2c2 neutrophils as it did for B6 neutrophils. In contrast, the expression of G-CSF responsive genes indicated a higher G-CSF receptor signaling in B6.Sle2c2 cells. G-CSF treatment restored the ability of B6.Sle2c2 mice to produce autoantibodies in a dose-dependent manner upon cGVHD induction, which correlated with restored CD4+ T cells activation, as well as dendritic cell and granulocyte expansion. Steady-state ROS production was higher in B6.Sle2c2 than in B6 mice. cGVHD induction resulted in a larger increase in ROS production in B6 than in B6.Sle2c2 mice, and this difference was eliminated with G-CSF treatment. Finally, a low dose G-CSF treatment accelerated the production of anti-dsDNA IgG in young B6.TC mice.
The different in vivo and in vitro responses of B6.Sle2c2 leukocytes are consistent with the mutation in the G-CSFR having functional consequences. The elimination of Sle2c2 suppression of autoantibody production by exogenous G-CSF indicates that Sle2c2 corresponds to a loss of function of G-CSF receptor. This result was corroborated by the increased anti-dsDNA IgG production in G-CSF-treated B6.TC mice, which also carry the Sle2c2 locus. Overall, these results suggest that the G-CSF pathway regulates the production of autoantibodies in murine models of lupus.
PMCID: PMC3672747  PMID: 23566364
10.  Exhausted Cytotoxic Control of Epstein-Barr Virus in Human Lupus 
PLoS Pathogens  2011;7(10):e1002328.
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) pathology has long been associated with an increased Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) seropositivity, viremia and cross-reactive serum antibodies specific for both virus and self. It has therefore been postulated that EBV triggers SLE immunopathology, although the mechanism remains elusive. Here, we investigate whether frequent peaks of EBV viral load in SLE patients are a consequence of dysfunctional anti-EBV CD8+ T cell responses. Both inactive and active SLE patients (n = 76 and 42, respectively), have significantly elevated EBV viral loads (P = 0.003 and 0.002, respectively) compared to age- and sex-matched healthy controls (n = 29). Interestingly, less EBV-specific CD8+ T cells are able to secrete multiple cytokines (IFN-γ, TNF-α, IL-2 and MIP-1β) in inactive and active SLE patients compared to controls (P = 0.0003 and 0.0084, respectively). Moreover, EBV-specific CD8+ T cells are also less cytotoxic in SLE patients than in controls (CD107a expression: P = 0.0009, Granzyme B release: P = 0.0001). Importantly, cytomegalovirus (CMV)-specific responses were not found significantly altered in SLE patients. Furthermore, we demonstrate that EBV-specific CD8+ T cell impairment is a consequence of their Programmed Death 1 (PD-1) receptor up-regulation, as blocking this pathway reverses the dysfunctional phenotype. Finally, prospective monitoring of lupus patients revealed that disease flares precede EBV reactivation. In conclusion, EBV-specific CD8+ T cell responses in SLE patients are functionally impaired, but EBV reactivation appears to be an aggravating consequence rather than a cause of SLE immunopathology. We therefore propose that autoimmune B cell activation during flares drives frequent EBV reactivation, which contributes in a vicious circle to the perpetuation of immune activation in SLE patients.
Author Summary
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) has been associated with Epstein-Barr Virus (EBV) infection for decades, however the mechanistic links have remained elusive. Most human adults are infected by EBV and carry the virus for life without clinical symptoms. However, for unknown reasons EBV induces infectious mononucleosis in some individuals, during which cross-reactive antibodies specific for both virus and self have been detected. Interestingly, such cross-reactive antibodies are also frequently found in SLE patients. Since, EBV seropositivity and viremia are more frequent in SLE patients than in healthy individuals, it has been postulated that EBV trigger autoimmunity. Here we show that SLE patients are indeed less capable of controlling EBV viremia, since their EBV-specific CD8+ T cells have diminished capacity to secrete effector molecules (e.g. cytokines and chemokines) and to kill EBV-infected targets as a consequence of their Programmed Death 1 (PD-1) receptor up-regulation. Longitudinal studies further reveal that disease flares precede EBV viremia. Thus, contrary to expectations, EBV reactivation appears to be an aggravating consequence, rather than a cause, of SLE immunopathology. Our results pave the way for immunological interventions that restore the host-EBV balance, which may result in decreased levels of aggravating cross-reactive antibodies and ultimately be beneficial to SLE patients.
PMCID: PMC3197610  PMID: 22028659
11.  IRF5 activation in monocytes of SLE patients is triggered by circulating autoantigens independent of type I IFN 
Arthritis and Rheumatism  2012;64(3):788-798.
Genetic variants of interferon regulatory factor 5 (IRF5) are associated with susceptibility to systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). IRF5 regulates the expression of proinflammatory cytokines and type I interferons (IFN) believed to be involved in SLE pathogenesis. The aim of this study was to determine the activation status of IRF5 by assessing its nuclear localization in immune cells of SLE patients and healthy donors, and to identify SLE triggers of IRF5 activation.
IRF5 nuclear localization in subpopulations of peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) from 14 genotyped SLE patients and 11 healthy controls was assessed using imaging flow cytometry. IRF5 activation and function were examined after ex vivo stimulation of healthy donor monocytes with SLE serum or components of SLE serum. Cellular localization was determined by ImageStream and cytokine expression by Q-PCR and ELISA.
IRF5 was activated in a cell type-specific manner; monocytes of SLE patients had constitutively elevated levels of nuclear IRF5 compared to NK and T cells. SLE serum was identified as a trigger for IRF5 nuclear accumulation; however, neither IFNα nor SLE immune complexes could induce nuclear localization. Instead, autoantigens comprised of apoptotic/necrotic material triggered IRF5 nuclear accumulation in monocytes. Production of cytokines IFNα, TNFα and IL6 in monocytes stimulated with SLE serum or autoantigens was distinct yet correlated with the kinetics of IRF5 nuclear localization.
This study provides the first formal proof that IRF5 activation is altered in monocytes of SLE patients that is in part contributed by the SLE blood environment.
PMCID: PMC3288585  PMID: 21968701
12.  The IFN-regulated gene signature is elevated in SCLE and DLE and correlates with CLASI score 
The British Journal of Dermatology  2012;166(5):971-975.
There is increased expression of type I interferon (IFN)-regulated proteins in the blood and target tissues of patients with cutaneous lupus erythematosus (CLE) and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Patients with SLE have increased IFN-regulated gene expression pointing towards a possible underlying genetic defect.
We measured expression levels of five type I IFN-regulated genes that are highly expressed in SLE in the peripheral blood of patients with CLE and correlated expression levels with cutaneous disease activity.
Peripheral blood was obtained from 10 healthy controls and 30 patients with CLE, including 8 with concomitant SLE. Total RNA was extracted and reverse transcribed into complimentary DNA. Gene expression levels were measured by real time PCR. Gene expression was normalized to GAPDH, standardized to healthy controls and then summed to calculate an IFN score for each patient. Disease activity was assessed with the Cutaneous Lupus Area and Severity Index (CLASI).
Patients with subacute cutaneous lupus erythematosus (SCLE) and discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE) had elevated IFN scores compared to healthy controls regardless of concomitant SLE (p< 0.01 with SLE and p<0.05 without SLE). There was no difference between patients with tumid lupus erythematosus (TLE) and healthy controls. The IFN score correlated with CLASI scores (Spearman’s Rho (r) = 0.55, p = 0.0017).
Patients with SCLE and DLE have an IFN signature, as seen in SLE. The level of gene expression correlates with cutaneous disease activity. These findings support a shared pathogenesis between SLE and some subtypes of CLE.
PMCID: PMC3336025  PMID: 22242767
13.  Interferon-induced protein IFIT4 is associated with systemic lupus erythematosus and promotes differentiation of monocytes into dendritic cell-like cells 
Using oligonucleotide microarray, many IFN-inducible genes have been found to be highly expressed in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from most patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Among these IFN-inducible genes, IFN-induced protein with tetratricopeptide repeats 4 (IFIT4) is a novel gene whose function is unknown.
In this study we examined the role played by IFIT4 in monocyte differentiation and the correlation between IFIT4 expression and the clinical manifestation of SLE. To this end, we used plasmid transfection, flow cytometry, mixed leucocyte responses, ELISA, quantitative RT-PCR and Western blotting.
We found that both IFIT4 mRNA and protein expression levels were significantly higher in PBMCs and monocytes from SLE patients than in those from healthy control individuals. IFIT4 expression was positively correlated with antinuclear antibodies, anti-double-stranded DNA, and anti-Sm auto-immune antibodies in SLE. Patients with SLE exhibiting higher expression of IFIT4 had a higher prevalence of leucopenia, thrombocytopenia and C3/C4 decrease. IFIT4 protein was localized exclusively to the cytoplasm, and it was significantly upregulated by IFN-α in normal PBMCs. To determine the role played by IFIT4 in monocyte differentiation, the monocytic cell line THP-1 was transfected with pEGFP-IFIT4 expression plasmid and stimulated with granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor/IL-4 to generate IFIT4-primed dendritic cell-like cells (DCLCs). IFIT4-primed DCLCs acquired morphological characteristics of dendritic cells more quickly, with greater resemblance to dendritic cells, as compared with DCLCs primed with pEGFP-C1 control plasmid trasfection. Furthermore, they exhibited higher expressions of CD40, CD86, CD80, HLA-DR and CD83, along with lower expression of CD14; increased IL-12 secretion; and an increased ability to stimulate T-cell proliferation. In addition, IFIT4-primed DCLCs enhanced IFN-γ secretion (about 2.4-fold) by T cells compared with controls.
Our findings suggest that IFIT4 might play roles in promoting monocyte differentiation into DCLCs and in directing DCLCs to modulate T-helper-1 cell differentiation; these actions might contribute to the autoimmunity and pathogenesis of SLE.
PMCID: PMC2575605  PMID: 18706081
14.  A Functional Variant in MicroRNA-146a Promoter Modulates Its Expression and Confers Disease Risk for Systemic Lupus Erythematosus 
PLoS Genetics  2011;7(6):e1002128.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a complex autoimmune disease with a strong genetic predisposition, characterized by an upregulated type I interferon pathway. MicroRNAs are important regulators of immune homeostasis, and aberrant microRNA expression has been demonstrated in patients with autoimmune diseases. We recently identified miR-146a as a negative regulator of the interferon pathway and linked the abnormal activation of this pathway to the underexpression of miR-146a in SLE patients. To explore why the expression of miR-146a is reduced in SLE patients, we conducted short parallel sequencing of potentially regulatory regions of miR-146a and identified a novel genetic variant (rs57095329) in the promoter region exhibiting evidence for association with SLE that was replicated independently in 7,182 Asians (Pmeta = 2.74×10−8, odds ratio = 1.29 [1.18–1.40]). The risk-associated G allele was linked to reduced expression of miR-146a in the peripheral blood leukocytes of the controls. Combined functional assays showed that the risk-associated G allele reduced the protein-binding affinity and activity of the promoter compared with those of the promoter containing the protective A allele. Transcription factor Ets-1, encoded by the lupus-susceptibility gene ETS1, identified in recent genome-wide association studies, binds near this variant. The manipulation of Ets-1 levels strongly affected miR-146a promoter activity in vitro; and the knockdown of Ets-1, mimicking its reduced expression in SLE, directly impaired the induction of miR-146a. We also observed additive effects of the risk alleles of miR-146a and ETS1. Our data identified and confirmed an association between a functional promoter variant of miR-146a and SLE. This risk allele had decreased binding to transcription factor Ets-1, contributing to reduced levels of miR-146a in SLE patients.
Author Summary
Genome-wide association studies have identified quite a number of susceptibility loci associated with complex diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). However, for most of them, the intrinsic link between genetic variation and disease mechanism is not fully understood. SLE is characterized by a significantly upregulated type I interferon (IFN) pathway, and we have previously reported that underexpression of a microRNA, miR-146a, contributes to alterations in the type I IFN pathway in lupus patients. Here we identified a novel genetic variant in the promoter region of miR-146a that is directly related to reduced expression of miR-146a and is associated with SLE susceptibility. The risk allele of this variant confers weaker binding affinity for Ets-1, which is a transcription factor encoded by a lupus susceptibility gene found in recent GWAS. These findings suggest that reduced expression of Ets-1 and its reduced binding affinity to the miR-146a promoter both may contribute to low levels of this microRNA in SLE patients, which may contribute to the upregulated type I IFN pathway in these patients. To our knowledge, this is also the first piece of evidence showing association between a genetic variant in a promoter region of a miRNA gene and a human disease.
PMCID: PMC3128113  PMID: 21738483
15.  Association of NCF2, IKZF1, IRF8, IFIH1, and TYK2 with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus 
PLoS Genetics  2011;7(10):e1002341.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a complex trait characterised by the production of a range of auto-antibodies and a diverse set of clinical phenotypes. Currently, ∼8% of the genetic contribution to SLE in Europeans is known, following publication of several moderate-sized genome-wide (GW) association studies, which identified loci with a strong effect (OR>1.3). In order to identify additional genes contributing to SLE susceptibility, we conducted a replication study in a UK dataset (870 cases, 5,551 controls) of 23 variants that showed moderate-risk for lupus in previous studies. Association analysis in the UK dataset and subsequent meta-analysis with the published data identified five SLE susceptibility genes reaching genome-wide levels of significance (Pcomb<5×10−8): NCF2 (Pcomb = 2.87×10−11), IKZF1 (Pcomb = 2.33×10−9), IRF8 (Pcomb = 1.24×10−8), IFIH1 (Pcomb = 1.63×10−8), and TYK2 (Pcomb = 3.88×10−8). Each of the five new loci identified here can be mapped into interferon signalling pathways, which are known to play a key role in the pathogenesis of SLE. These results increase the number of established susceptibility genes for lupus to ∼30 and validate the importance of using large datasets to confirm associations of loci which moderately increase the risk for disease.
Author Summary
Genome-wide association studies have revolutionised our ability to identify common susceptibility alleles for systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). In complex diseases such as SLE, where many different genes make a modest contribution to disease susceptibility, it is necessary to perform large-scale association studies to combine results from several datasets, to have sufficient power to identify highly significant novel loci (P<5×10−8). Using a large SLE collection of 870 UK SLE cases and 5,551 UK unaffected individuals, we firstly replicated ten moderate-risk alleles (P<0.05) from a US–Swedish study of 3,273 SLE cases and 12,188 healthy controls. Combining our results with the US-Swedish data identified five new loci, which crossed the level for genome-wide significance: NCF2 (neutrophil cytosolic factor 2), IKZF1 (Ikaros family zinc-finger 1), IRF8 (interferon regulatory factor 8), IFIH1 (interferon-induced helicase C domain-containing protein 1), and TYK2 (tyrosine kinase 2). Each of these five genes regulates a different aspect of the immune response and contributes to the production of type-I and type-II interferons. Although further studies will be required to identify the causal alleles within these loci, the confirmation of five new susceptibility genes for lupus makes a significant step forward in our understanding of the genetic contribution to SLE.
PMCID: PMC3203198  PMID: 22046141
16.  Selective Involvement of the Amygdala in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus 
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(12):e499.
Antibodies specifically affect the amygdala in a mouse model of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). The aim of our study was to investigate whether there is also specific involvement of the amygdala in human SLE.
Methods and Findings
We analyzed a group of 37 patients with neuropsychiatric SLE (NP-SLE), 21 patients with SLE, and a group of 12 healthy control participants with diffusion weighted imaging (DWI). In addition, in a subset of eight patients, plasma was available to determine their anti-NMDAR antibody status. From the structural magnetic resonance imaging data, the amygdala and the hippocampus were segmented, as well as the white and gray matter, and the apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC) was retrieved. ADC values between controls, patients with SLE, and patients with NP-SLE were tested using analysis of variance with post-hoc Bonferroni correction. No differences were found in the gray or white matter segments. The average ADC in the amygdala of patients with NP-SLE and SLE (940 × 10−6 mm2/s; p = 0.006 and 949 × 10−6 mm2/s; p = 0.019, respectively) was lower than in healthy control participants (1152 × 10−6 mm2/s). Mann-Whitney analysis revealed that the average ADC in the amygdala of patients with anti-NMDAR antibodies (n = 4; 802 × 10−6 mm2/s) was lower (p = 0.029) than the average ADC of patients without anti-NMDAR antibodies (n = 4; 979 × 10−6 mm2/s) and also lower (p = 0.001) than in healthy control participants.
This is the first study to our knowledge to observe damage in the amygdala in patients with SLE. Patients with SLE with anti-NMDAR antibodies had more severe damage in the amygdala compared to SLE patients without anti-NMDAR antibodies.
Patients with SLE who also had antibodies against the NMDA receptor had more severe damage in the amygdala as compared with patients with SLE without these antibodies.
Editors' Summary
The human body is continually attacked by viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites, but the immune system usually prevents these pathogens from causing disease. To be effective, the immune system has to respond rapidly to foreign antigens (bits of proteins that are unique to the pathogen) but ignore self-antigens. In autoimmune diseases, this ability to discriminate between self and nonself fails for unknown reasons, and the immune system begins to destroy human tissues. In the chronic autoimmune disease systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE or lupus), the immune system attacks the skin, joints, nervous system, and many other organs. Patients with SLE make numerous “autoantibodies” (antibodies are molecules made by the immune system that recognize and attack antigens; autoantibodies attack self-antigens). These autoantibodies start the attack on the body; then other parts of the immune system join in, causing inflammation and forming deposits of immune cells, both of which damage tissues. Common symptoms of SLE include skin rashes and arthritis, but some patients develop NP-SLE, a form of SLE that includes neuropsychiatric symptoms such as amnesia, dementia, mood disorders, strokes, and seizures. There is no cure for SLE, but mild cases are controlled with ibuprofen and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs; severe cases are kept in check with corticosteroids and other powerful immunosuppressants.
Why Was This Study Done?
In most of the tissues affected by SLE, the damage done by autoantibodies and immune cells can be seen when the tissues are examined with a microscope. But there is little microscopic damage visible in the brains of patients with NP-SLE. More generally, it is unclear how or even whether the immune system affects mental functions and emotion. In this study, researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to investigate whether there are any structural changes in the brains of patients with NP-SLE that could explain their neuropsychiatric symptoms. They have also examined whether any changes in the brain can be linked to the presence of autoantibodies that recognize a protein called the NMDA receptor (anti-NMDAR antibodies) that is present on brain cells.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers used an MRI technique called diffusion weighted imaging to examine the brains of several patients with NP-SLE or SLE and the brains of several healthy individuals. Using this technique, it is possible to quantify the amount of structural damage in different regions of the brain. The researchers found no differences in most areas of the brain between the two groups of patients and the healthy controls. However, there were clear signs of damage in the amygdala (the part of the brain that regulates emotions and triggers responses to danger) in the patients with SLE or NP-SLE when compared to the control individuals. The researchers also found that the damage was more severe in the patients who had anti-NMDAR autoantibodies than in those that did not have these autoantibodies.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that autoantibodies produced by patients with SLE specifically damage the amygdala, a discovery that helps to explain some of the neuropsychiatric symptoms of this condition. Previous work has shown that the treatment of mice with anti-NMDAR antibodies and epinephrine, a stress hormone that causes leaks in the blood-brain barrier (antibodies can't usually get into the brain because of this barrier), results in damage to the amygdala and a deficient response to dangerous stimuli. The researchers suggest that a similar series of events might happen in SLE—patients often mention that a period of major stress precedes the development of symptoms. To provide stronger evidence for such a scenario, a detailed study of how stress relates to neuropsychiatric symptoms is needed. The damage to the amygdala (and the lack of damage elsewhere in the brain) and the possible association between brain damage and anti-NMDAR antibodies seen in this small study also need to be confirmed in more patients. Nevertheless, these findings provide an intriguing glimpse into the interplay between the immune system and the brain and into how stress might lead to physical damage in the brain.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
MedlinePlus encyclopedia pages on autoimmunity and on systemic lupus erythematosus
US National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases booklet for patients with SLE
American College of Rheumatology information for patients on SLE
NHS Direct Online Health Encyclopedia pages on SLE
The Lupus Foundation of America information and support for patients with SLE
PMCID: PMC1702559  PMID: 17177602
17.  Constitutive Phosphorylation of Interferon Receptor A-Associated Signaling Proteins in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(7):e41414.
Overexpression of type I interferon (IFN-I)-induced genes is a common feature of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and its experimental models, but the participation of endogenous overproduction of IFN-I on it is not clear. To explore the possibility that abnormally increased IFN-I receptor (IFNAR) signaling could participate in IFN-I-induced gene overexpression of SLE, we examined the phosphorylation status of the IFNAR-associated signaling partners Jak1 and STAT2, and its relation with expression of its physiologic inhibitor SOCS1 and with plasma levels of IFNα and IFN-like activity.
Methodology/Principal Findings
Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) from SLE patients with or without disease activity and healthy controls cultured in the presence or in the absence of IFNβ were examined by immunoprecipitation and/or western blotting for expression of the two IFNAR chains, Jak1, Tyk2, and STAT2 and their phosphorylated forms. In SLE but not in healthy control PBMC, Jak1 and STAT2 were constitutively phosphorylated, even in the absence of disease activity (basal pJak1: controls vs. active SLE p<0.0001 and controls vs. inactive SLE p = 0.0006; basal pSTAT2: controls vs. active and inactive SLE p<0.0001). Although SOCS1 protein was slightly but significantly decreased in SLE in the absence or in the presence of IFNβ (p = 0.0096 to p<0.0001), in SOCS1 mRNA levels were markedly decreased (p = 0.036 to p<0.0001). IFNβ induced higher levels of the IFN-I-dependent MxA protein mRNA in SLE than in healthy controls, whereas the opposite was observed for SOCS1. Although there was no relation to increased serum IFNα, active SLE plasma could induce expression of IFN-dependent genes by normal PBMC.
These findings suggest that in some SLE patients IFN-I dependent gene expression could be the result of a low IFNAR signaling threshold.
PMCID: PMC3408474  PMID: 22859983
18.  Low frequency of CD4+CD25+ Treg in SLE patients: a heritable trait associated with CTLA4 and TGFβ gene variants 
BMC Immunology  2009;10:5.
CD4+CD25+ regulatory T cells play an essential role in maintaining immune homeostasis and preventing autoimmunity. Therefore, defects in Treg development, maintenance or function have been associated with several human autoimmune diseases including Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), a systemic autoimmune disease characterized by loss of tolerance to nuclear components and significantly more frequent in females.
To investigate the involvement of Treg in SLE pathogenesis, we determined the frequency of CD4+CD25+CD45RO+ T cells, which encompass the majority of Treg activity, in the PBMC of 148 SLE patients (76 patients were part of 54 families), 166 relatives and 117 controls. SLE patients and their relatives were recruited in several Portuguese hospitals and through the Portuguese Lupus Association. Control individuals were blood donors recruited from several regional blood donor centers. Treg frequency was significantly lower in SLE patients than healthy controls (z = -6.161, P < 0.00001) and intermediate in the relatives' group. Remarkably, this T cell subset was also lower in females, most strikingly in the control population (z = 4.121, P < 0.001). We further ascertained that the decreased frequency of Treg in SLE patients resulted from the specific reduction of bona fide FOXP3+CD4+CD25+ Treg. Treg frequency was negatively correlated with SLE activity index (SLEDAI) and titers of serum anti-dsDNA antibodies. Both Treg frequency and disease activity were modulated by IVIg treatment in a documented SLE case. The segregation of Treg frequency within the SLE families was indicative of a genetic trait. Candidate gene analysis revealed that specific variants of CTLA4 and TGFβ were associated with the decreased frequency of Treg in PBMC, while FOXP3 gene variants were associated with affection status, but not with Treg frequency.
SLE patients have impaired Treg production or maintenance, a trait strongly associated with SLE disease activity and autoantibody titers, and possibly resulting from the inability to convert FOXP3+CD25- into FOXP3+CD25+ T cells. Treg frequency is highly heritable within SLE families, with specific variants of the CTLA4 and TGFβ genes contributing to this trait, while FOXP3 contributes to SLE through mechanisms not involving a modulation of Treg frequency. These findings establish that the genetic components in SLE pathogenesis include genes related to Treg generation or maintenance.
PMCID: PMC2656467  PMID: 19173720
19.  Two Independent Functional Risk Haplotypes in TNIP1 are Associated with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus 
Arthritis and rheumatism  2012;64(11):3695-3705.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disease characterized by autoantibody production and altered type I interferon expression. Genetic surveys and genome-wide association studies have identified more than 30 SLE susceptibility genes. One of these genes, TNIP1, encodes the ABIN1 protein. ABIN1 functions in the immune system by restricting the NF-κB signaling. In order to better understand the genetic factors that influence association with SLE in genes that regulate the NF-κB pathway, we analyzed a dense set of genetic markers spanning TNIP1 and TAX1BP1, as well as the TNIP1 homolog, TNIP2, in case-control sets of diverse ethnic origins.
We fine-mapped TNIP1, TNIP2, and TAX1BP1 in a total of 8372 SLE cases and 7492 healthy controls from European-ancestry, African-American, Hispanic, East Asian, and African-American Gullah populations. Levels of TNIP1 mRNA and ABIN1 protein were analyzed using quantitative RT-PCR and Western blotting, respectively, in EBV-transformed human B cell lines.
We found significant associations between genetic variants within TNIP1 and SLE but not in TNIP2 or TAX1BP1. After resequencing and imputation, we identified two independent risk haplotypes within TNIP1 in individuals of European-ancestry that were also present in African-American and Hispanic populations. These risk haplotypes produced lower levels of TNIP1 mRNA and ABIN1 protein suggesting they harbor hypomorphic functional variants that influence susceptibility to SLE by restricting ABIN1 expression.
Our results confirmed the association signals between SLE and TNIP1 variants in multiple populations and provide new insight into the mechanism by which TNIP1 variants may contribute to SLE pathogenesis.
PMCID: PMC3485412  PMID: 22833143
20.  Olf1/EBF associated zinc finger protein interfered with antinuclear antibody production in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus 
The aim of the study was to determine whether Olf1/EBF associated zinc finger protein (OAZ), a transcription factor encoded by a positional systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) candidate gene, plays a functional role in the pathogenesis in SLE.
Gene expression levels in peripheral blood cells (PBLs) measured using quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) were assessed for association with disease activity and the presence of specific autoantibodies. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) were incubated with specific siRNAs for three days, then cells were harvested for measuring mRNA levels using qPCR, and supernatants for levels of total immunoglobulin (Ig)G and IgM as well as secreted cytokines, chemokine and antinuclear antibodies (ANA) using ELISA. Indirect immunofluorescence was also applied for ANA detection.
OAZ gene expressions in PBLs from 40 ANA-positive SLE patients were significantly increased than those from 30 normal controls (P < 0.0001) and 18 patients with rheumatoid arthritis (P < 0.01). In SLE patients, OAZ transcripts were positively correlated with SLE disease activity index (SLEDAI) score (r = 0.72, P < 0.0001) and higher in those positive for anti-dsDNA or anti-Sm antibodies (both P < 0.05). Co-culturing with OAZ siRNAs reduced mRNA levels of OAZ by 74.6 ± 6.4% as compared to those co-cultured with non-targeting siRNA and OAZ silencing resulted in reduced total IgG, ANA, interferon (IFN)-γ, interleukin (IL)-10, IL-12 and IL-21, but elevated CCL2 levels in culture supernatants (P < 0.05). The declined ANA levels correlated with inhibited OAZ expression (r = 0.88, P = 0.05), reduced IL-21 levels (r = 0.99, P < 0.01), and elevated chemokine (C-C motif) ligand 2 levels (r = -0.98, P < 0.01). Expressions of ID1-3 were significantly down-regulated by 68.7%, 70.2% and 67.7% respectively after OAZ silence, while ID3 was also highly expressed in SLE PBLs (P < 0.0001) and associated with disease activity (r = 0.76, P < 0.0001) as well as anti-dsDNA or anti-Sm antibodies (both P < 0.05).
Elevated expression of OAZ transcripts in SLE PBLs were strongly correlated with disease activity. Suppression of OAZ expression inhibited downstream ID levels, and secretion of ANA and IL-21, implicating a role of OAZ pathway in the pathogenesis of SLE.
PMCID: PMC2888210  PMID: 20359360
21.  Association of Genetic Variants in Complement Factor H and Factor H-Related Genes with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus Susceptibility 
PLoS Genetics  2011;7(5):e1002079.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), a complex polygenic autoimmune disease, is associated with increased complement activation. Variants of genes encoding complement regulator factor H (CFH) and five CFH-related proteins (CFHR1-CFHR5) within the chromosome 1q32 locus linked to SLE, have been associated with multiple human diseases and may contribute to dysregulated complement activation predisposing to SLE. We assessed 60 SNPs covering the CFH-CFHRs region for association with SLE in 15,864 case-control subjects derived from four ethnic groups. Significant allelic associations with SLE were detected in European Americans (EA) and African Americans (AA), which could be attributed to an intronic CFH SNP (rs6677604, in intron 11, Pmeta = 6.6×10−8, OR = 1.18) and an intergenic SNP between CFHR1 and CFHR4 (rs16840639, Pmeta = 2.9×10−7, OR = 1.17) rather than to previously identified disease-associated CFH exonic SNPs, including I62V, Y402H, A474A, and D936E. In addition, allelic association of rs6677604 with SLE was subsequently confirmed in Asians (AS). Haplotype analysis revealed that the underlying causal variant, tagged by rs6677604 and rs16840639, was localized to a ∼146 kb block extending from intron 9 of CFH to downstream of CFHR1. Within this block, the deletion of CFHR3 and CFHR1 (CFHR3-1Δ), a likely causal variant measured using multiplex ligation-dependent probe amplification, was tagged by rs6677604 in EA and AS and rs16840639 in AA, respectively. Deduced from genotypic associations of tag SNPs in EA, AA, and AS, homozygous deletion of CFHR3-1Δ (Pmeta = 3.2×10−7, OR = 1.47) conferred a higher risk of SLE than heterozygous deletion (Pmeta = 3.5×10−4, OR = 1.14). These results suggested that the CFHR3-1Δ deletion within the SLE-associated block, but not the previously described exonic SNPs of CFH, might contribute to the development of SLE in EA, AA, and AS, providing new insights into the role of complement regulators in the pathogenesis of SLE.
Author Summary
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a complex autoimmune disease, associated with increased complement activation. Previous studies have provided evidence for the presence of SLE susceptibility gene(s) in the chromosome 1q31-32 locus. Within 1q32, genes encoding complement regulator factor H (CFH) and five CFH-related proteins (CFHR1-CFHR5) may contribute to the development of SLE, because genetic variants of these genes impair complement regulation and predispose to various human diseases. In this study, we tested association of genetic variants in the region containing CFH and CFHRs with SLE. We identified genetic variants predisposing to SLE in European American, African American, and Asian populations, which might be attributed to the deletion of CFHR3 and CFHR1 genes but not previously identified disease-associated exonic variants of CFH. This study provides the first evidence for consistent association between CFH/CFHRs and SLE across multi-ancestral SLE datasets, providing new insights into the role of complement regulators in the pathogenesis of SLE.
PMCID: PMC3102741  PMID: 21637784
22.  The SLE Transcriptome Exhibits Evidence of Chronic Endotoxin Exposure and Has Widespread Dysregulation of Non-Coding and Coding RNAs 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(5):e93846.
Gene expression studies of peripheral blood mononuclear cells from patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) have demonstrated a type I interferon signature and increased expression of inflammatory cytokine genes. Studies of patients with Aicardi Goutières syndrome, commonly cited as a single gene model for SLE, have suggested that accumulation of non-coding RNAs may drive some of the pathologic gene expression, however, no RNA sequencing studies of SLE patients have been performed. This study was designed to define altered expression of coding and non-coding RNAs and to detect globally altered RNA processing in SLE.
Purified monocytes from eight healthy age/gender matched controls and nine SLE patients (with low-moderate disease activity and lack of biologic drug use or immune suppressive treatment) were studied using RNA-seq. Quantitative RT-PCR was used to validate findings. Serum levels of endotoxin were measured by ELISA.
We found that SLE patients had diminished expression of most endogenous retroviruses and small nucleolar RNAs, but exhibited increased expression of pri-miRNAs. Splicing patterns and polyadenylation were significantly altered. In addition, SLE monocytes expressed novel transcripts, an effect that was replicated by LPS treatment of control monocytes. We further identified increased circulating endotoxin in SLE patients.
Monocytes from SLE patients exhibit globally dysregulated gene expression. The transcriptome is not simply altered by the transcriptional activation of a set of genes, but is qualitatively different in SLE. The identification of novel loci, inducible by LPS, suggests that chronic microbial translocation could contribute to the immunologic dysregulation in SLE, a new potential disease mechanism.
PMCID: PMC4010412  PMID: 24796678
23.  SLE Peripheral Blood B Cell, T Cell and Myeloid Cell Transcriptomes Display Unique Profiles and Each Subset Contributes to the Interferon Signature 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(6):e67003.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a chronic autoimmune disease that is characterized by defective immune tolerance combined with immune cell hyperactivity resulting in the production of pathogenic autoantibodies. Previous gene expression studies employing whole blood or peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) have demonstrated that a majority of patients with active disease have increased expression of type I interferon (IFN) inducible transcripts known as the IFN signature. The goal of the current study was to assess the gene expression profiles of isolated leukocyte subsets obtained from SLE patients. Subsets including CD19+ B lymphocytes, CD3+CD4+ T lymphocytes and CD33+ myeloid cells were simultaneously sorted from PBMC. The SLE transcriptomes were assessed for differentially expressed genes as compared to healthy controls. SLE CD33+ myeloid cells exhibited the greatest number of differentially expressed genes at 208 transcripts, SLE B cells expressed 174 transcripts and SLE CD3+CD4+ T cells expressed 92 transcripts. Only 4.4% (21) of the 474 total transcripts, many associated with the IFN signature, were shared by all three subsets. Transcriptional profiles translated into increased protein expression for CD38, CD63, CD107a and CD169. Moreover, these studies demonstrated that both SLE lymphoid and myeloid subsets expressed elevated transcripts for cytosolic RNA and DNA sensors and downstream effectors mediating IFN and cytokine production. Prolonged upregulation of nucleic acid sensing pathways could modulate immune effector functions and initiate or contribute to the systemic inflammation observed in SLE.
PMCID: PMC3691135  PMID: 23826184
24.  Upregulated PD-1 Expression Is Associated with the Development of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, but Not the PD-1.1 Allele of the PDCD1 Gene 
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a multisystem autoimmune disease with complicated genetic inheritance. Programmed death 1 (PD-1), a negative T cell regulator to maintain peripheral tolerance, induces negative signals to T cells during interaction with its ligands and is therefore a candidate gene in the development of SLE. In order to examine whether expression levels of PD-1 contribute to the pathogenesis of SLE, 30 patients with SLE and 30 controls were recruited and their PD-1 expression levels in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) were measured via flow cytometry and quantitative real-time-reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). Also, whether PD-1 expression levels are associated with the variant of the SNP rs36084323 and the SLE Disease Activity Index (SLEDAI) was studied in this work. The PD-1 expression levels of SLE patients were significantly increased compared with those of the healthy controls. The upregulated PD-1 expression levels in SLE patients were greatly associated with SLEDAI scores. No significant difference was found between PD-1 expression levels and SNP rs36084323. The results suggest that increased expression of PD-1 may correlate with the pathogenesis of SLE, upregulated PD-1 expression may be a biomarker for SLE diagnosis, and PD-1 inhibitor may be useful to SLE treatment.
PMCID: PMC4016872  PMID: 24860805
25.  Use of type I interferon-inducible mRNAs as pharmacodynamic markers and potential diagnostic markers in trials with sifalimumab, an anti-IFNα antibody, in systemic lupus erythematosus 
Arthritis Research & Therapy  2010;12(Suppl 1):S6.
Type I interferons are implicated in the pathogenesis of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Type I interferon-inducible mRNAs are widely and concordantly overexpressed in the periphery and involved tissues of a subset of SLE patients, and provide utility as pharmacodynamic biomarkers to aid dose selection, as well as potential indicators of patients who might respond favorably to anti-IFNα therapy in SLE. We implemented a three-tiered approach to identify a panel of type I interferon-inducible mRNAs to be used as potential pharmacodynamic biomarkers to aid dose selection in clinical trials of sifalimumab, an anti-IFNα monoclonal antibody under development for the treatment of SLE. In a single-dose escalation phase 1 trial, we observed a sifalimumab-specific and dose-dependent inhibition of the overexpression of type I interferon-inducible mRNAs in the blood of treated subjects. Inhibition of expression of type I interferon-inducible mRNAs and proteins was also observed in skin lesions of SLE subjects from the same trial. Inhibiting IFNα resulted in a profound downstream effect in these SLE subjects that included suppression of mRNAs of B-cell activating factor belonging to the TNF family and the signaling pathways of TNFα, IL-10, IL-1β, and granulocyte-macrophage colony-stimulating factor in both the periphery and skin lesions. A scoring method based on the expression of type I interferon-inducible mRNAs partitioned SLE patients into two distinct subpopulations, which suggests the possibility of using these type I interferon-inducible genes as predictive biomarkers to identify SLE patients who might respond more favorably to anti-type I interferon therapy.
PMCID: PMC2991779  PMID: 20392292

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