Objective: Generalized DNA hypomethylation contributes to altered T cell function and gene expression in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Some of the overexpressed genes participate in the disease process, but the full repertoire of genes affected is unknown. Methylation-sensitive T cell genes were identified by treating T cells with the DNA methyltransferase inhibitor 5-azacytidine and comparing gene expression with oligonucleotide arrays. CD70, a costimulatory ligand for B cell CD27, was one gene that reproducibly increased. We then determined whether CD70 is overexpressed on T cells treated with other DNA methylation inhibitors and on SLE T cells, and determined its functional significance.
Methods: Oligonucleotide arrays, real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction, and flow cytometry were used to compare CD70 expression in T cells treated with 2 DNA methyltransferase inhibitors (5-azacytidine and procainamide) and 3 ERK pathway inhibitors known to decrease DNA methyltransferase expression (U0126, PD98059, and hydralazine). The consequences of CD70 overexpression were tested by coculture of autologous T and B cells with and without anti-CD70 and measuring IgG production by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. The results were compared with those of T cells from lupus patients.
Results: SLE T cells and T cells treated with DNA methylation inhibitors overexpressed CD70 and overstimulated B cell IgG production. The increase in IgG synthesis was abrogated by anti-CD70.
Conclusion: SLE T cells and T cells treated with DNA methyltransferase inhibitors and ERK pathway inhibitors overexpress CD70. This increased B cell costimulation and subsequent immunoglobulin overproduction may contribute to drug-induced and idiopathic lupus.