Objective: (i) To determine the levels of nuclear DNA damage in freshly isolated and cultured neutrophils from SLE patients (SLE), rheumatoid arthritis patients (RA) and healthy individuals and relate these to the percentage of apoptotic neutrophils. (ii) To assess rates of repair of neutrophil oxidative DNA damage.
Methods: The comet assay was used to quantify nuclear DNA damage in neutrophils from SLE patients (n = 20), control subjects (n = 15) and RA patients (n = 15). Levels of DNA damage were related to apoptosis as assessed by annexin V binding and morphology. Rates of repair of neutrophil oxidative DNA damage was measured by incorporating formamidopyrimidine-DNA glycosylase (FPG) into the comet assay.
Results: Nuclear DNA damage in freshly isolated and cultured (20 h) neutrophils was significantly greater in SLE patients (median = 12.5%, 27.3%; respectively) compared with RA patients (median = 9.4%, p = 0.002; 19.3%, p = 0.002; respectively) and control subjects (median = 8.2%, p = 0.003; 18.7%, p = 0.01, respectively). Significantly higher levels of circulating apoptotic neutrophils were demonstrated in SLE patients compared to RA and control subjects. Similar findings were observed following 20 h cultured neutrophil preparations. However, no significant direct correlation between neutrophil apoptosis and DNA damage was observed. Neutrophils from 3 of 5 SLE patients demonstrated an impaired ability to repair oxidatively modified DNA.
Conclusion: Neutrophils from SLE patients display increased DNA damage and, additionally, may demonstrate defective repair of oxidative DNA damage. These features, in addition to increased rates of neutrophil apoptosis, may act as contributing factors to autoantigen excess and immune activation.