Background: Interferon-α (IFN-α) is increased and plays an important role in the pathogenesis of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDCs) are the main producer of IFN-α, but their IFN-α producing capacity has been shown to be unchanged or reduced when stimulated with a Toll-like receptor 9 (TLR9) agonist in patients with SLE compared to in healthy individuals. In this study, we investigated the IFN-α-producing capacity of lupus pDCs under different stimulation.
Methods: pDCs from patients with SLE and healthy controls (HC) were stimulated with TLR9 or TLR7 agonist, and their IFN-α producing capacity was examined by intracellular cytokine staining and flow cytometry. The correlation of IFN-α-producing capacity with serum IFN-α levels and disease activity was assessed. The effect of in vitro IFN-α exposure on IFN-α production by pDCs was examined. Localization of TLR7 in cellular compartments in pDCs was investigated.
Results: The IFN-α producing capacity of pDCs was reduced after TLR9 stimulation, but increased when stimulated with a TLR7 agonist in SLE compared to in HC. IFN-α production by pDCs upon TLR9 stimulation was reduced and the percentage of IFN-α+pDC was inversely correlated with disease activity and serum IFN-α levels. However, the TLR7 agonist-induced IFN-α producing capacity of lupus pDCs was enhanced and correlated with disease activity and serum IFN-α. Exposure to IFN-α enhanced IFN-α production of TLR7-stimulated pDCs, but reduced that of pDCs activated with a TLR9 agonist. TLR7 localization was increased in late endosome/lysosome compartments in pDCs from SLE patients.
Conclusions: These findings indicate that enhanced TLR7 responses of lupus pDCs, owing to TLR7 retention in late endosome/lysosome and exposure to IFN-α, are associated with the pathogenesis of SLE.
Keywords: Interferon-α; Plasmacytoid dendritic cells; Systemic lupus erythematosus; Toll-like receptor.