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J Immunol. 1994 Apr 1;152(7):3685-92.

Accelerated in vitro apoptosis of lymphocytes from patients with systemic lupus erythematosus.

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  • 1Division of Rheumatology, University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, Denver 80262.


SLE is a disease characterized by the generation of an immune response to intact nuclear Ags, especially components of the nucleosome, histones and DNA. The process of programmed cell death, or apoptosis, is characterized by cleavage of chromatin into oligonucleosomes and release of these nucleosomes into the extracellular space. To address the question of whether altered apoptosis might provide a source of extracellular nuclear Ags in SLE, we have examined apoptosis of lymphocytes isolated from patients with SLE, patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and normal controls. Apoptosis was measured by three independent methods and confirmed by gel electrophoresis. Freshly isolated lymphocytes (t0) showed low levels of apoptosis. However, lymphocytes from SLE patients demonstrated a significant increase in the number of apoptotic cells at t0 compared with normal controls and RA patients. In tissue culture, lymphocytes from all patient groups underwent apoptosis, but the rate of apoptosis of lymphocytes derived from SLE patients was 2.35-fold faster than apoptosis of lymphocytes from normal controls or RA patients. The increased rate of apoptosis could not be accounted for by corticosteroid or cytotoxic medication. There was a significant correlation between SLE disease activity as measured by the systemic lupus activity measure and rate of apoptosis in vitro. The release of intact nucleosomes during apoptosis was measured by ELISA; lymphocytes from SLE patients released increased amounts of nucleosomal material into the extracellular space in direct proportion to the rate of apoptosis. Abnormal apoptosis of lymphocytes in SLE may provide a source of extracellular nuclear Ag to drive the immune response and to allow the formation of immune complexes. The demonstration of altered in vitro apoptosis of lymphocytes derived from SLE patients raises the possibility that abnormalities of apoptosis may contribute to the pathogenesis of SLE.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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