The nucleosome is a major autoantigen known to activate PMN in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). TLR9 recognizes bacterial and even mammalian DNA under certain circumstances. Nevertheless, the role of TLR9 in SLE development is still unclear. Since nucleosomes are composed of DNA, we investigated whether TLR9 is required for nucleosome-induced PMN activation. Isolated neutrophils were cultured with nucleosomes, plasma from lupus patients and other stimuli in the presence/absence of various inhibitors. Cells were analyzed by flow cytometry, ELISA and confocal microscopy. We found that nucleosomes circulating in lupus plasma induce the secretion of pro-inflammatory cytokines by PMN. Nucleosomes activate human PMN independently of unmethylated CpG sequences in nucleosomal DNA, leading to IL-8/IL-6/TNF secretion and CD11b up-regulation. Nucleosomes accumulate in the cytoplasm of PMN upon endocytosis, induce TLR9 up-regulation and act synergistically with TLR9 ligands. Nucleosome-induced activation was not inhibited by polymyxin B (PB), chloroquine (CQ), ammonium chloride (AC) or a TLR9 antagonist. Moreover, both PMN isolated from WT and TLR9-KO mice were activated by nucleosomes, as detected by MIP-2 secretion and CD11b up-regulation. Activation occurred therefore independently of endotoxins, endosomal acidification, TLR9 and CpG motifs. TLR9 may thus be differently required in the triggering of nucleosome-induced innate immunity and anti-nucleosome B-cell autoimmunity.
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