Introduction: Progranulin (PGRN) is the precursor of granulin (GRN), a soluble cofactor for toll-like receptor 9 (TLR9) signaling evoked by oligonucleotide (CpG)-DNA. Because TLR9 signaling plays an important role in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), we investigated whether PGRN is involved in the pathogenesis of SLE.
Methods: We measured concentrations of serum PGRN and interleukin-6 (IL-6) with enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) in patients with SLE (n = 68) and in healthy controls (n = 60). We assessed the correlation between the serum PGRN levels and established disease-activity indexes. The sera from the patients with high PGRN titers (>80 ng/ml) at the initial evaluation were reevaluated after the disease was ameliorated by treatment. We also measured the IL-6 concentration secreted by peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) incubated with (a) oligonucleotide (CpG-B) in the presence or absence of recombinant human PGRN (rhPGRN); and (b) lupus sera in the presence or absence of a neutralizing anti-PGRN antibody.
Results: Serum PGRN levels were significantly higher in SLE patients than healthy controls. Their levels were significantly associated with activity of clinical symptoms. They also significantly correlated with values of clinical parameters, including the SLE Disease Activity Index and anti-double-stranded DNA antibody titers, and inversely with CH50, C3, and C4 levels. Moreover, serum PGRN levels significantly decreased after successful treatment of SLE. The rhPGRN significantly upregulated the production of IL-6 by PBMCs stimulated with CpG-B. Patients' sera stimulated production of IL-6 from PBMCs, which was significantly impaired by neutralization of PGRN. The serum PGRN levels significantly correlated with the serum IL-6 levels.
Conclusions: Serum PGRN could be a useful biomarker for disease activity of SLE. PGRN may be involved in the pathogenesis of SLE partly by enhancing the TLR9 signaling.