Objective: To determine whether serum levels of B lymphocyte stimulator (BLyS) are elevated in patients with systemic immune-based rheumatic diseases and correlate with serum Ig levels and/or autoantibody titers.
Methods: Sera from 185 patients with various systemic immune-based rheumatic diseases (95 with systemic lupus erythematosus [SLE], 67 with rheumatoid arthritis [RA], 23 with other diagnoses) were assayed for BLyS and Ig. In 7 patients who required arthrocentesis of a swollen knee, coincident serum and synovial fluid samples were assayed for BLyS. Medical charts were retrospectively reviewed for elevated autoantibody titers and proteinuria within a 1-month period before or after collection of sera for BLyS and Ig determination. Sera concurrently collected from 48 normal healthy subjects served as controls.
Results: Serum BLyS levels were elevated in 38 of 185 patients (21%) and correlated significantly with serum IgG levels. Serum BLyS levels did not correlate with the patients' age, sex, race, or medications, but correlated positively with anti-double-stranded DNA antibody titers among SLE patients and with rheumatoid factor titers among seropositive RA patients. In contrast, serum BLyS levels correlated inversely with nephrotic-range proteinuria among SLE patients. In every case tested, BLyS levels in clinically inflamed synovial fluids were greater than those in simultaneously obtained sera.
Conclusion: BLyS may be an important factor in driving polyclonal hypergammaglobulinemia and elevated autoantibody titers in patients with systemic immune-based rheumatic diseases. Local production of BLyS in the joints may contribute to joint pathology. Patients with elevated serum BLyS levels may be ideal candidates for therapeutic targeting of BLyS.