Objective: To investigate if interleukin-15 (IL-15) (rather than IL-2) is increased in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and might be responsible for immunological abnormalities of SLE such as the increased lymphocytic expression of Bcl-2 and CD25.
Methods: Serum IL-15, IL-2 and tumour necrosis factor (TNF) levels of 65 SLE patients, 20 healthy persons and 10 rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients were measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). For 25 SLE patients, the percentage of CD25 + lymphocytes and the lymphocytic Bcl-2 levels were simultaneously determined by fluorocytometry. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) of 15 SLE patients were incubated with or without recombinant IL-15 and the influence on Bcl-2 and CD25 was determined.
Results: IL-15 was found to be elevated in 25 SLE sera (38%), but in none of the 20 healthy sera (P = 0.0005) and none of the 10 RA sera. Both lymphocyte CD25 and Bcl-2 expression significantly correlated with serum IL-15 and were increased by recombinant IL-15.
Conclusion: Serum IL-15 may in part be responsible for the immunological abnormalities seen in active SLE.