Objective: T cells from the majority of patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) display antigen receptor-mediated signaling aberrations associated with defective T cell receptor (TCR) zeta chain expression. The TCR zeta chain, a critical signaling molecule, exists in multiple molecular forms and membrane fractions with distinct functions in antigen-mediated signaling processes. This study was undertaken to investigate the complete spectrum of expression of the different forms and distribution of the TCR zeta chain in SLE T cells.
Methods: T cells were isolated from 48 SLE patients and 21 healthy subjects. The expression of various forms of the TCR zeta chain was investigated by immunoblotting with specific antibodies. The lipid raft-associated form of the zeta chain was determined by quantitating the solubilized zeta chain after disruption of the lipid rafts by cholesterol depletion using methyl-betacyclodextrin. The distribution of the zeta chain was investigated by fluorescence microscopy.
Results: The phosphorylated 21- and 23-kd forms and the detergent-insoluble membrane-associated form of the TCR zeta chain and alternatively spliced zeta chain were significantly decreased in SLE T cells. In contrast, major ubiquitinated forms of the zeta chain were increased in these cells. We also identified up-regulation of a novel 14-kd form of the zeta chain in SLE T cells. Resting SLE T cell membranes had an increased percentage of the residual membrane-bound zeta chain in the lipid rafts. Fluorescence microscopy findings indicated that the residual zeta chain is more clustered on the cell membranes of SLE T cells.
Conclusion: These results suggest that, in addition to the 16-kd form, expression of other molecular forms and fractions of the TCR zeta chain as well as its membrane distribution are abnormal in SLE T cells. Increased lipid raft association and surface clustering of the zeta chain may explain the molecular mechanisms underlying the signaling abnormalities in these cells.