Objective: Many systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) patients display impaired cellular immune responses against allo- or recall antigens. Given the down-regulating properties of interleukin-10 (IL-10) on antigen-presenting cell functions, this study was undertaken to investigate whether the well-known overproduction of IL-10 by SLE peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) was involved in this process.
Methods: We measured the proliferation of SLE or control PBMC against irradiated allogeneic dendritic cells in the absence or presence of antibodies blocking IL-10 activity, or in the absence or presence of IL-12.
Results: As a group, SLE PBMC proliferated against allogeneic targets less than control PBMC. However, SLE patients could be categorized as good responders or poor responders according to the amplitude of their allogeneic response. Interestingly, serum IL-10 concentrations were significantly higher in the poor responders than in the good responders or in the controls, and addition of antibodies blocking IL-10 activity significantly increased the proliferative responses of the group. We confirmed the role of IL-10 in the impaired allogeneic responses displayed by SLE PBMC by demonstrating that addition of IL-10-containing SLE PBMC supernatants inhibited a normal allogeneic response between unrelated healthy controls, and by showing that this inhibitory effect was commensurate with the concentrations of IL-10 measured in the supernatants. In this experimental setting, we also demonstrated that IL-10-containing SLE PBMC supernatants inhibited IL-12 p35 and IL-12 p40 gene expression. Consistent with the last observation, we found that addition of exogenous IL-12 restored the proliferation of poor-responder SLE patients' PBMC.
Conclusion: Taken together, these results indicate that dysregulation of the IL-10/IL-12 balance plays a critical role in the impaired cellular immune responses observed in SLE patients.