SLE and Serum Complement: Causative, Concomitant or Coincidental?

Open Rheumatol J. 2017 Sep 30;11:113-122. doi: 10.2174/1874312901711010113. eCollection 2017.


Background: Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) is an incurable autoimmune disorder with complement activation playing a key role in the pathogenesis of immune-mediated tissue injury. While quantifying complement to monitor SLE disease activity has been the standard of care since the 1950s, decreased complement levels are not consistently associated with flares.

Objective: We seek to clarify the SLE phenotype in which complement deficiency is causative, concomitant, or coincidental.

Methods: A PUBMED literature review was conducted using key words 'complement,' 'SLE,' and 'SLE flares' in English-only journals from 1972-2017. Relevant clinical studies and review articles were found that examined the measurement of complement levels in SLE, and more specifically, interpretation of low serum complement levels regardless of disease activity.

Conclusion: Complement activation plays a key role in the pathophysiology of SLE and it is recommended to continue monitoring serum levels of C3 and C4 to assess for disease activity. However, it is important to note that decreased serum complement is not consistently associated with disease flares.It is clinically important to find novel ways to assess disease activity in SLE. Reduced serum levels of cell-bound complement activation products may more accurately reflect disease activity than conventional serum C3 and C4 monitoring.

Keywords: CB-CAPS; Complement; SLE; SLE flares'; Systemic Lupus Erythematosus.