Cell death in the pathogenesis of systemic lupus erythematosus and lupus nephritis

Clin Immunol. 2017 Dec;185:59-73. doi: 10.1016/j.clim.2016.08.010. Epub 2016 Aug 9.


Nephritis is one of the most severe complications of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). One key characteristic of lupus nephritis (LN) is the deposition of immune complexes containing nucleic acids and/or proteins binding to nucleic acids and autoantibodies recognizing these molecules. A variety of cell death processes are implicated in the generation and externalization of modified nuclear autoantigens and in the development of LN. Among these processes, apoptosis, primary and secondary necrosis, NETosis, necroptosis, pyroptosis, and autophagy have been proposed to play roles in tissue damage and immune dysregulation. Cell death occurs in healthy individuals during conditions of homeostasis yet autoimmunity does not develop, at least in part, because of rapid clearance of dying cells. In SLE, accelerated cell death combined with a clearance deficiency may lead to the accumulation and externalization of nuclear autoantigens and to autoantibody production. In addition, specific types of cell death may modify autoantigens and alter their immunogenicity. These modified molecules may then become novel targets of the immune system and promote autoimmune responses in predisposed hosts. In this review, we examine various cell death pathways and discuss how enhanced cell death, impaired clearance, and post-translational modifications of proteins could contribute to the development of lupus nephritis.

Keywords: Autoimmunity; Cell death; Lupus.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Death*
  • Humans
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / etiology
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / pathology*