Impaired degradation and aberrant phagocytosis of necrotic cell debris in the peripheral blood of patients with primary Sjögren's syndrome

J Autoimmun. 2015 Jan;56:12-22. doi: 10.1016/j.jaut.2014.08.004. Epub 2014 Sep 16.


Aberrant removal of necrotic debris is considered a feature with inflammatory consequences in SLE. Herein, primary Sjögren's syndrome (SS) patients were investigated for the first time for the capacity of their sera to degrade secondary necrotic cell remnants (SNEC) and DNA (endonuclease DNase1 activity), as well as for uptake of SNEC by blood-borne phagocytes. For comparison, specimens from unselected SLE and RA patients and from healthy blood donors (HBD) were also studied. Compared to HBD, the sera from SS and SLE patients studied (but not RA) were found to exhibit significantly impaired capacity for degradation of SNEC (both for p = 0.007) and deficient DNase1 activity (both for p < 0.0001). The deficient DNase1 activity in SS and SLE sera did not owe to decreased DNase1 protein levels. It correlated inversely with increased serum levels of circulating nucleosomes and cell-free DNA (p < 0.0001), as well as with the disease activity indices of SS (r = -0.445, p = 0.0001) and SLE (r = -0.500, p = 0.013). In ex-vivo whole blood analyses, SS and SLE patients (but not RA) also manifested significantly increased SNEC-phagocytosis by monocytes and granulocytes (all for p < 0.0001) that also correlated with disease severity indices of SS (p = 0.001) and SLE (p = 0.01). In various cross-admixture experiments, such aberration was found to reside in the hyperfunctional activity of phagocytes, the impaired degrading activity of serum DNase1 and the SNEC-binding capacity of serum IgG of SS and SLE patients. The sera of SS and SLE patients (but not of RA) induced significant SNEC-phagocytosis by healthy monocytes that correlated inversely with the DNase1 activity (r = -0.634, p < 0.0001) of these sera. In line with this, the inhibition of DNase1 in HBD sera by G-actin was found to lead to significantly diminished SNEC degradation and increased SNEC uptake by healthy phagocytes (p = 0.0009), supporting the important physiologic role of serum DNase1 in the prevention of SNEC-phagocytosis. Purified serum IgG preparations from SS and SLE patients manifested increased binding to SNEC and were able to enhance significantly the engulfment of SNEC by healthy phagocytes both directly (under serum-free conditions, p ≤ 0.009) and via the prevention of physiologic degradation of SNEC by serum, most likely due to their "shielding" against endonuclease digestion (p = 0.0005). These data indicate that upon cell necrosis, the immune system of SS and SLE patients may be overly exposed to the necrotic debris, a fact that probably holds a key role in the pathogenesis of inflammatory and autoimmune reactions observed in these disorders.

Keywords: DNase1; Degradation of necrotic cell debris; Necrotic cell debris; Sjögren's syndrome; Systemic lupus erythematosus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / immunology
  • Autoantibodies / blood
  • Autoantibodies / immunology
  • Deoxyribonuclease I / blood
  • Enzyme Activation
  • Female
  • Granulocytes / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin G / blood
  • Immunoglobulin G / immunology
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / blood
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / immunology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Monocytes / immunology
  • Necrosis / immunology
  • Phagocytes / immunology
  • Phagocytosis / immunology*
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sjogren's Syndrome / blood*
  • Sjogren's Syndrome / diagnosis
  • Sjogren's Syndrome / immunology*


  • Autoantibodies
  • Immunoglobulin G
  • Deoxyribonuclease I