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Clin Exp Immunol. 2004 Oct;138(1):171-8.

Up-regulation of IL-18 and predominance of a Th1 immune response is a hallmark of lupus nephritis.

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Department of Internal Medicine and Clinical Oncology, University of Bari, Italy.


There is evidence that nephritis is dominated by a Th1 immune response in systemic lupus erythematosus. Since IL-18 promotes polarization of the immune response toward Th1, we investigated the role of this cytokine in lupus nephritis (LN). A total of 133 lupus patients and 44 healthy subjects were enrolled. Demographic and clinical characteristics with renal biopsy data were recorded. IL-18 along with IFN-gamma and IL-4, two prototypical of Th1 and Th2 cytokines, were measured in serum by ELISA. Peripheral blood lymphocytes were analysed by flow cytometry for IFN-gamma and IL-4. IL-18 expression was determined by immunohistochemistry in 13 renal biopsy specimens from patients with LN and 2 controls. Serum IL-18 was higher in lupus patients than in controls. Levels of IL-18 correlated with urinary microalbumin and were increased in patients with LN when compared to those without LN. IL-18 expression was also increased within the glomeruli of nephritic patients and was primarily detected within the mesangial matrix and in infiltrating mononuclear cells. Measurement of IFN-gamma and IL-4 in either sera or peripheral blood lymphocytes showed high IFN-gamma along with low IL-4 expression in LN patients compared to patients without nephritis. A positive correlation between serum IL-18 and IFN-gamma levels was found. IL-18 may play a prominent role in the pathogenesis of LN by promoting a cytokine imbalance towards a Th1 immune response. Measurement of IL-18 may be helpful for the early identification of lupus patients with LN and may help gauge the response to treatment in patients with active LN undergoing treatment.

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