Objective: To evaluate whether patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) have a higher rate of apoptosis in and secondary necrosis of polymorphonuclear neutrophils (PMNs) and macrophages compared with controls; to compare the rate of macrophage phagocytic clearance of apoptotic PMNs in patients with SLE and healthy controls; to evaluate whether in vitro PMN and macrophage apoptosis and secondary necrosis, and the ability of macrophages to phagocytose apoptotic bodies, are correlated with lupus disease activity; and to determine whether macrophage clearance of apoptotic bodies in patients with SLE and normal controls is related to certain serum factors.
Methods: Thirty-six patients with SLE and 18 healthy, nonsmoking volunteers were studied. PMNs and monocytes were isolated from fresh blood and cultured in the presence of different sources of serum. Apoptotic PMNs and macrophages were examined by annexin V binding and morphology on May-Giemsa-stained cytopreparations, at different time points. The presence of secondary necrotic PMNs and macrophages was verified by staining with trypan blue. Macrophage phagocytosis of apoptotic PMNs was measured using a coded, observer-blinded, microscopically quantified phagocytosis assay. Cells were cultured in the presence of serum obtained from healthy subjects or from patients with SLE.
Results: At 5 and 24 hours, the percentage of apoptotic PMNs from patients with SLE was significantly higher than that of PMNs from healthy subjects. At 24 and 48 hours, the percentage of secondary necrotic PMNs from patients with SLE was also significantly higher than the percentage of necrotic PMNs from controls. Serum from patients with SLE accelerated the rate of apoptosis in and secondary necrosis of PMNs from healthy subjects. Macrophages from SLE patients were less capable of phagocytosing apoptotic PMNs compared with macrophages obtained from controls. Macrophages from patients with active SLE were less capable of phagocytosing apoptotic PMNs than were macrophages from patients with inactive SLE, but the difference was not statistically significant. The percentage of phagocytosis of apoptotic PMNs by macrophages from SLE patients correlated negatively with the SLE Disease Activity Index, serum levels of anti-double-stranded DNA, and the erythrocyte sedimentation rate, and correlated positively with serum levels of C3, C4, and albumin, the hemoglobin level, and the leukocyte count. Serum from SLE patients not only significantly increased macrophage apoptosis in cells from healthy subjects but also remarkably down-regulated the clearance of apoptotic PMNs by macrophages from healthy subjects. In contrast, serum from healthy subjects significantly increased phagocytosis of apoptotic PMNs by macrophages from SLE patients.
Conclusion: The observed increase of apoptotic PMNs and macrophages and the poor ability of macrophages from patients with SLE to phagocytose apoptotic bodies may indicate an impaired clearance mechanism, which may be mediated by factors in a patient's serum.