SLE disease manifestations are highly variable between patients, and the prevalence of individual clinical features differs significantly by ancestry. Serum tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) is elevated in some SLE patients, and may play a role in disease pathogenesis. We detected associations between serum TNF-α, clinical manifestations, autoantibodies, and serum IFN-α in a large multi-ancestral SLE cohort.
We studied serum TNF-α in 653 SLE patients, including 214 African-American, 298 European-Americans and 141 Hispanic-American subjects. TNF-α was measured using ELISA, and IFN-α was measured with a functional reporter cell assay. Stratified and multivariate analyses were used to detect associations in each ancestral background separately, with meta-analysis when appropriate.
Serum TNF-α levels were significantly higher in SLE patients than in nonautoimmune controls (p<5.0×10−3 for each ancestral background). High serum TNF-α was positively correlated with high serum IFN-α when tested in the same sample across all ancestral backgrounds (meta-analysis OR=1.8, p=1.2×10−3). While serum TNF-α levels alone did not differ significantly between SLE patients of different ancestral backgrounds, the proportion of patients with concurrently high TNF-α and high IFN-α was highest in African-Americans and lowest in European-Americans (p=5.0×10−3). Serum TNF-α was not associated with autoantibodies, clinical criteria for the diagnosis of SLE, or age at time of sample.
Serum TNF-α levels are high in many SLE patients, and we observed a positive correlation between serum TNF-α and IFN-α. These data support a role for TNF-α in SLE pathogenesis across all ancestral backgrounds, and suggest important cytokine subgroups within the disease.