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Lupus. 2014 Apr;23(4):386-94. doi: 10.1177/0961203314523870. Epub 2014 Feb 19.

Serum milk fat globule epidermal growth factor 8 elevation may subdivide systemic lupus erythematosus into two pathophysiologically distinct subsets.

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1Department of Rheumatology and Clinical Immunology.



Impaired clearance of apoptotic cells is a potential trigger of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Milk fat globule epidermal growth factor 8 (MFG-E8) plays an important role in the clearance of dying cells. Previously, we reported serum MFG-E8 was elevated in some SLE patients. Here we further investigated the prevalence of MFG-E8 in active SLE and other autoimmune diseases and also tried to clarify the characteristics of MFG-E8-positive and -negative SLE.


Serum MFG-E8 was measured in 40 active non-treated SLE patients, 104 disease controls and 104 healthy controls by ELISA. Clinical characteristics and serum cytokine profiles were compared between MFG-E8-positive and MFG-E8-negative SLE patients.


Prevalence of MFG-E8 was significantly higher in SLE patients (40%) than in various controls (p < 0.05). MFG-E8 level became negative after treatment, and increased again upon relapse. When compared, MFG-E8-positive SLE patients showed higher immune complex (p = 0.021) and lower complement (p = 0.004 for CH50). In contrast, MFG-E8-negative SLE patients tended to show higher CRP (p = 0.094). There was a positive correlation between MFG-E8 level and immune complex level (r s = 0.49, p = 0.049). TNF-α (p = 0.019), IFN-γ (p = 0.031) and IL-10 (p = 0.013) were significantly higher in MFG-E8-positive SLE.


MFG-E8-positive SLE and -negative SLE may have different clinical features, the one with stronger immunological response and the other with stronger inflammatory response, and those two groups may be two distinct subtypes of SLE driven by different mechanisms. Further, MFG-E8 could be used as a biomarker for diagnosis and monitoring of disease activity in certain SLE patients.


Systemic lupus erythematosus; apoptosis; milk fat globule epidermal growth factor 8; subset

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