Increased activity of T follicular helper (Tfh) cells plays a major pathogenic role in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). However, the mechanisms that cause aberrant Tfh cell responses in SLE remain elusive. Here we showed the OX40 ligand (OX40L)-OX40 axis contributes to the aberrant Tfh response in SLE. OX40L was expressed by myeloid antigen-presenting cells (APCs), but not B cells, in blood and in inflamed tissues in adult and pediatric SLE patients. The frequency of circulating OX40L-expressing myeloid APCs positively correlated with disease activity and the frequency of ICOS(+) blood Tfh cells in SLE. OX40 signals promoted naive and memory CD4(+) T cells to express multiple Tfh cell molecules and were sufficient to induce them to become functional B cell helpers. Immune complexes containing RNA induced OX40L expression on myeloid APCs via TLR7 activation. Our study provides a rationale to target the OX40L-OX40 axis as a therapeutic modality for SLE.
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