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Scand J Immunol. 2009 Sep;70(3):175-83. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-3083.2009.02300.x.

The role of extracellular DNA in autoimmunity in SLE.

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Durham VA Medical Center and Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC 27705, USA.


Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a prototypic autoimmune disease characterized by the expression of antibodies to DNA. These antibodies form immune complexes that can stimulate cytokine production as well as deposit in the tissues to incite inflammation and damage. For the formation of immune complexes, the availability of extracellular DNA in an immunologically relevant form is essential. While apoptosis has been implicated as the source of this nuclear material in SLE, as shown with in vitro or in vivo systems, extracellular DNA can originate from apoptotic as well as necrotic cells. In experimental models, the release of DNA occurs with the administration of cells induced to die, in vitro as well as the administration of agents to induce cell death in situ. This release can be influenced by the presence of inflammatory cells such as macrophages that can interact with dead and dying cells to modulate the translocation of DNA from the inside to the outside of cells. In vivo, both glucocorticoids and oestrogens can modify the extent of DNA release from the administration of dead and dying cells. Together, these findings indicate that the generation of extracellular DNA in SLE can result from cell death and that steps in this process represent potential targets for new therapies.

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