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Sci Transl Med. 2011 Mar 9;3(73):73ra19. doi: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3001180.

Neutrophils activate plasmacytoid dendritic cells by releasing self-DNA-peptide complexes in systemic lupus erythematosus.

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  • 1Department of Immunology, University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX 77030, USA.


Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a severe and incurable autoimmune disease characterized by chronic activation of plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDCs) and production of autoantibodies against nuclear self-antigens by hyperreactive B cells. Neutrophils are also implicated in disease pathogenesis; however, the mechanisms involved are unknown. Here, we identified in the sera of SLE patients immunogenic complexes composed of neutrophil-derived antimicrobial peptides and self-DNA. These complexes were produced by activated neutrophils in the form of web-like structures known as neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs) and efficiently triggered innate pDC activation via Toll-like receptor 9 (TLR9). SLE patients were found to develop autoantibodies to both the self-DNA and antimicrobial peptides in NETs, indicating that these complexes could also serve as autoantigens to trigger B cell activation. Circulating neutrophils from SLE patients released more NETs than those from healthy donors; this was further stimulated by the antimicrobial autoantibodies, suggesting a mechanism for the chronic release of immunogenic complexes in SLE. Our data establish a link between neutrophils, pDC activation, and autoimmunity in SLE, providing new potential targets for the treatment of this devastating disease.

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