To assess CD154 expression in pediatric lupus and explore a transcriptional mechanism explaining dysregulated CD154 expression.
Cell surface CD154 expression was examined, pre- and post-activation, on peripheral blood CD4 T cells from 29 children with lupus and matched controls by flow cytometry. CD154 expression was correlated with clinical features, laboratory parameters, and treatments received. Increased CD154 expression on lupus CD4 T cells was correlated with CD154 message and transcription rates by real-time RT-PCR and nuclear run-on assays, respectively. NFAT transcriptional activity and NFAT mRNA levels in lupus CD4 T cells were explored by reporter gene analysis and real-time RT-PCR, respectively.
CD154 surface protein levels were increased 1.44-fold on lupus CD4 T cells compared to controls at one day post-activation ex vivo. This increase correlated clinically with the presence of nephritis and elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate. Increased CD154 protein also correlated with increased CD154 mRNA levels and rates of CD154 transcription, particularly at later time-points post-T cell activation. Reporter gene analyses revealed a trend for increased NFAT, but decreased AP-1 and similar NFκB, activity in lupus CD4 T cell compared to controls. Moreover, NFAT1 and, in particular, NFAT2 mRNA levels were notably increased in lupus CD4 T cells compared to controls.
Following activation, cell surface CD154 is increased on pediatric lupus CD4 T cells compared to controls, and this correlates with the presence of nephritis, increased CD154 transcription rates, and NFAT activity. These results suggest that NFAT/calcineurin inhibitors, such as tacrolimus and cyclosporine, may be beneficial in treating lupus nephritis.