Unmet Needs in the Pathogenesis and Treatment of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

Clin Rev Allergy Immunol. 2018 Dec;55(3):352-367. doi: 10.1007/s12016-017-8640-5.


Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune rheumatic disease with a prevalence of approximately 1 in 1000. Over the last 30 years, advances in treatment such as use of corticosteroids and immunosuppressants have improved life expectancy and quality of life for patients with lupus and the key unmet needs have therefore changed. With the reduced mortality from disease activity, development of cardiovascular disease (CVD) has become an increasingly important cause of death in patients with SLE. The increased CVD risk in these patients is partly, but not fully explained by standard risk factors, and abnormalities in the immune response to lipids may play a role. Invariant natural killer T cells, which are triggered specifically by lipid antigens, may protect against progression of subclinical atherosclerosis. However, currently our recommendation is that clinicians should focus on optimal management of standard CVD risk factors such as smoking, blood pressure and lipid levels. Fatigue is one of the most common and most limiting symptoms suffered by patients with SLE. The cause of fatigue is multifactorial and disease activity does not explain this symptom. Consequently, therapies directed towards reducing inflammation and disease activity do not reliably reduce fatigue and new approaches are needed. Currently, we recommend asking about sleep pattern, optimising pain relief and excluding other causes of fatigue such as anaemia and metabolic disturbances. For the subgroup of patients whose disease activity is not fully controlled by standard treatment regimes, a range of different biologic agents have been proposed and subjected to clinical trials. Many of these trials have given disappointing results, though belimumab, which targets B lymphocytes, did meet its primary endpoint. New biologics targeting B cells, T cells or cytokines (especially interferon) are still going through trials raising the hope that novel therapies for patients with refractory SLE may be available soon.

Keywords: Biologics; Cardiovascular disease; Clinical trials; Fatigue; Systemic lupus erythematosus.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biological Products / therapeutic use
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / complications
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Comorbidity
  • Disease Management
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Drug Resistance
  • Fatigue
  • Health Services Needs and Demand*
  • Humans
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / diagnosis
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / epidemiology*
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / etiology
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / therapy
  • Research
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors


  • Biological Products