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Clin Rheumatol. 2006 Mar;25(2):225-33. Epub 2006 Jan 24.

Peripheral blood lymphocyte apoptosis and circulating dendritic cells in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus: correlation with immunological status and disease-related symptoms.

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Department of Dermatology, Medical University of Lodz, Lodz, Poland.


We investigated in vivo the relationship between the degree of peripheral blood lymphocyte apoptosis and circulating dendritic cells (DC) as well as the immunological status in 45 patients with systemic lupus erythematous (SLE). Apoptosis was detected by phosphatidylserine externalization and assays to detect caspase activation. The total DC count (tDC) and their myeloid, mDC1 (BDCA1+) and mDC2 (BDCA3+), and plasmacytoid, pDC (BDCA3+), subtypes were assessed. Moreover, several immunological parameters, such as complement proteins, interferons (IFN), tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha, interleukin (IL)-4, and IL-6 levels were assessed. There were no significant differences in both the intensity of apoptosis and DC counts between active and inactive SLE as well as between untreated patients and those treated with steroids. The incidence of lymphocyte apoptosis correlated positively with T-cell count, both T-helper (p=0.004) and cytotoxic T cells (p=0.001), but not with B or natural killer (NK) cells. The intensity of apoptosis enhanced along with the increase in complement C3 (p=0.016) and decrease in IFN-gamma (p=0.040) levels. The apoptotic cell count correlated with tDC (p=0.031), mDC1 (p=0.007), and pDC (p=0.039) counts. Both tDC and mDC1 counts correlated positively with antinuclear antibody (ANA) titers (p=0.017 and 0.032, respectively). Moreover, tDC correlated with C4 (p=0.039) and pDC with both C3 (p=0.032) and C4 (p=0.007) levels. The DC counts correlated inversely with IFN-gamma (tDC, p=0.038; mDC1, p=0.009), IL-6 (mDC2, p=0.031), or serum IgG levels (tDC, p=0.006; mDC1, p<0.001; mDC2, p=0.001). We found a positive correlation between lymphocyte apoptosis and peripheral blood DC count as well as the level of complement proteins in patients with SLE. The enhanced lymphocyte apoptosis was accompanied by the decrease in concentration of some cytokines, such as IFN-gamma or IL-6, as well as serum IgG level. This finding may reflect pathogenetic events during development of the disease, which include a persistent signal derived from circulating apoptotic lymphocytes, mobilizing the complement system, and attracting peripheral blood DC.

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