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Arthritis Res Ther. 2012 Jan 4;14(1):R1. doi: 10.1186/ar3549.

Tumor necrosis factor α release in peripheral blood mononuclear cells of cutaneous lupus and dermatomyositis patients.

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  • 1Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center, 38th and Woodland Avenues, Philadelphia, PA 08901, USA.



Several studies have reported that TNFα is substantially increased within skin lesions of patients with discoid lupus erythematosus (DLE), subacute cutaneous lupus erythematosus (SCLE) and dermatomyositis (DM) compared to controls. Elevated TNFα has been reported in the sera of some patients with systemic lupus erythematosus, DLE and SCLE, but not in the sera of patients with DM. Because of the key pathogenic role of autoimmunity in these diseases, in this study we sought to evaluate TNFα production by a readily available source of immune cells (namely, peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs)) taken from controls and from patients with cutaneous lupus or DM.


Freshly isolated PBMCs were cultured overnight, and TNFα protein accumulation in conditioned medium was determined. In addition, flow cytometry using cell-type-specific markers was performed to determine the sources of TNFα. One-way analysis of variance and Dunnett's multiple comparisons test were performed for statistical comparisons.


Accumulation of TNFα protein in conditioned medium containing PBMCs from DLE patients, but not from SCLE, TLE or DM patients, was significantly greater (19-fold) than that from controls (P < 0.001). In DLE PBMCs, increased TNFα was produced by circulating monocytes and myeloid dendritic cells (mDCs). The mean TNFα fluorescence intensity, but not the total number, of both monocytes and mDCs (P < 0.01) from DLE patients was significantly greater (2.3-fold) than that of controls. There were significantly more (13.3-fold) mDCs with intracellular TNFα in blood from DLE patients (P < 0.001) and DM patients (P < 0.001) compared to controls. Most importantly, a positive correlation was seen in DLE patients between their disease activity measured using the Cutaneous Lupus Erythematosus Disease Area and Severity Index and TNFα protein secretion (r = 0.61, P < 0.08).


TNFα protein production by PBMCs is greater in DLE patients than in patients with other cutaneous forms of lupus and DM or in controls. Flow cytometric studies demonstrated that circulating monocytes and mDCs contributed to this increased TNFα production. Monocytes and mDCs are present in lesional skin, and the increased TNFα production by these cells and other PBMCs likely increase the number of inflammatory cells seen in DLE skin relative to other subsets of cutaneous lupus erythematosus and DM. These results provide a possible biological explanation for the denser infiltrate seen in DLE relative to DM.

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