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Autoimmunity. 2003 Dec;36(8):463-72.

Role of natural interferon-alpha producing cells (plasmacytoid dendritic cells) in autoimmunity.

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  • 1Section of Rheumatology, Department of Medical Sciences, Uppsala University Hospital, Uppsala, Sweden.


The type I interferons (IFNs) have antiviral, cytostatic and prominent immunomodulatory effects, which all are of great importance during viral infections. However, prolonged exposure of the immune system to type I IFN can break tolerance and initiate an autoimmune reaction, eventually leading to autoimmune disease. Recent observations in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) have revealed that such individuals have endogenous IFN-alpha inducers, causing an ongoing IFN-alpha production and consequently a continuous stimulation of the immune system. These IFN-alpha inducers consist of small immune complexes (IC) containing DNA or RNA and act on the principal IFN-alpha producing cell, the natural IFN-alpha producing cell (NIPC), also termed the plasmacytoid dendritic cell (PDC). The NIPC/PDC is a key cell in both the innate and adaptive immune response but can also, either directly or via produced IFN-alpha, have a pivotal role in autoimmunity. In this review we summarize recent data concerning NIPC/PDC, including their activation, regulation, function and possible role in autoimmune diseases, especially SLE.

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