Normalization of CD4+ T cell metabolism reverses lupus

Sci Transl Med. 2015 Feb 11;7(274):274ra18. doi: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aaa0835.


Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disease in which autoreactive CD4(+) T cells play an essential role. CD4(+) T cells rely on glycolysis for inflammatory effector functions, but recent studies have shown that mitochondrial metabolism supports their chronic activation. How these processes contribute to lupus is unclear. We show that both glycolysis and mitochondrial oxidative metabolism are elevated in CD4(+) T cells from lupus-prone B6.Sle1.Sle2.Sle3 (TC) mice as compared to non-autoimmune controls. In vitro, both the mitochondrial metabolism inhibitor metformin and the glucose metabolism inhibitor 2-deoxy-d-glucose (2DG) reduced interferon-γ (IFN-γ) production, although at different stages of activation. Metformin also restored the defective interleukin-2 (IL-2) production by TC CD4(+) T cells. In vivo, treatment of TC mice and other lupus models with a combination of metformin and 2DG normalized T cell metabolism and reversed disease biomarkers. Further, CD4(+) T cells from SLE patients also exhibited enhanced glycolysis and mitochondrial metabolism that correlated with their activation status, and their excessive IFN-γ production was significantly reduced by metformin in vitro. These results suggest that normalization of T cell metabolism through the dual inhibition of glycolysis and mitochondrial metabolism is a promising therapeutic venue for SLE.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes / metabolism*
  • Deoxyglucose / therapeutic use
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / drug therapy
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / metabolism*
  • Metformin / therapeutic use
  • Mice
  • Phenotype


  • Metformin
  • Deoxyglucose