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Br J Rheumatol. 1996 Nov;35(11):1067-74.

Tumour necrosis factor alpha and its soluble receptors parallel clinical disease and autoimmune activity in systemic lupus erythematosus.

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  • 12nd Department of Medicine, Lainz Hospital, Vienna, Austria.


Cytokines are believed to play an important role in the pathogenesis of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). However, for tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha) both beneficial and deleterious effects have been reported. To obtain information about the involvement of this cytokine in the pathophysiology of SLE, serum levels of TNF-alpha, the soluble forms of the 55 and 75 kDa tumour necrosis factor receptors (TNF-R55 and TNF-R75), and interleukin-6 (IL-6) were measured by ELISA in nine female patients over a period of 2 yr. Compared to healthy controls, levels of TNF-alpha (median 47 pg/ml, range < 15-222 pg/ml), TNF-R55 (median 1.9 ng/ml, range 0.8-10.8 ng/ml), TNF-R75 (median 4.7 ng/ml, range 1.5-15 ng/ml) and IL-6 (median 3.5 pg/ml, range < 3.5-52 pg/ml) were significantly elevated in SLE patients (P < 0.0001 vs controls in all cases). There were strong correlations between TNF-alpha and its soluble receptors (P < 0.0001). Moreover, TNF-alpha and both TNF-Rs strongly correlated with clinical and serological parameters of disease activity, such as the European Consensus Lupus Activity Measurement (ECLAM) score, anti-dsDNA antibodies, C-reactive protein (CRP), erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) and anaemia (P < 0.0001 for all comparisons). TNF-alpha and TNF-R75 also correlated with IL-6 (P < 0.0001). However, no correlation between IL-6 and ECLAM was found, and the correlation of IL-6 with anti-dsDNA was relatively weak; in contrast, IL-6 correlated strongly with CRP and ESR (P < 0.0001). Although these data do not allow us ultimately to discriminate between beneficial and deleterious effects of TNF-alpha, they nevertheless suggest a central role for the TNF system in the pathophysiology of SLE.

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