The P2X7 receptor-inflammasome complex has a role in modulating the inflammatory response in primary Sjögren's syndrome

J Intern Med. 2013 Nov;274(5):480-9. doi: 10.1111/joim.12115. Epub 2013 Aug 17.


Objective: Innate and adaptive immunity may contribute to gland dysfunction in patients with primary Sjögren's syndrome (pSS). The P2X7 receptor (P2X7 R)-NLRP3 inflammasome complex modulates the release of the inflammatory cytokines IL-1β and IL-18. The presence of P2X7 R in salivary glands suggests an interesting scenario for the initiation and amplification of the innate immune response in pSS. Therefore, the aim of this study was to assess the role of the P2X7 R-NLRP3 inflammasome in pSS.

Subjects and methods: Twenty-one consecutive patients with pSS according to the American-European Consensus Group criteria and 15 patients with sicca syndrome (i.e. without Sjögren's syndrome, non-SS) were enrolled in this study, together with six control (CTL) subjects. Expression of the P2X7R-NLRP3 platform and IL-18 was determined by real-time PCR and western blotting in gland specimens and peripheral lymphomonocytes; data were related to patients\x92 clinical, serological and histopathological characteristics. The presence of IL-18 was determined in gland and saliva samples.

Results: P2X7 R expression was significantly higher in salivary glands from individuals with pSS than in those from non-SS and CTL subjects. Accordingly, the gene expression levels of the inflammasome components NLRP3, ASC and caspase-1 were significantly higher in pSS gland specimens, and this was paralleled by an increased expression of mature IL-18 in pSS saliva samples. The expression of both the P2X7 R and the inflammasome components was a marker of disease-related glandular involvement, being increased in patients with anti-Ro/SSA positivity and correlated with focus score.

Conclusion: The results of this study suggest an involvement of the P2X7 R-inflammasome-caspase-1-IL-18 axis in the development of pSS exocrinopathy. This finding provides the basis for studying the complex mechanisms underlying pSS, as well as for developing novel potential therapeutic strategies.

Keywords: P2X7 receptor; Sjögren's syndrome; inflammasome; interleukin-18.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Blotting, Western
  • Carrier Proteins / analysis
  • Carrier Proteins / physiology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Inflammasomes / physiology*
  • Inflammation / physiopathology*
  • Interleukin-18 / analysis
  • Interleukin-18 / physiology
  • Interleukin-1beta / analysis
  • Interleukin-1beta / physiology
  • Middle Aged
  • Monocytes / chemistry
  • Monocytes / physiology
  • NLR Family, Pyrin Domain-Containing 3 Protein
  • Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Receptors, Purinergic P2X7 / analysis
  • Receptors, Purinergic P2X7 / physiology*
  • Salivary Glands / chemistry
  • Salvia / chemistry
  • Sjogren's Syndrome / immunology
  • Sjogren's Syndrome / physiopathology*


  • Carrier Proteins
  • Inflammasomes
  • Interleukin-18
  • Interleukin-1beta
  • NLR Family, Pyrin Domain-Containing 3 Protein
  • NLRP3 protein, human
  • Receptors, Purinergic P2X7