Low-density granulocytes and monocytes as biomarkers of cardiovascular risk in systemic lupus erythematosus

Rheumatology (Oxford). 2020 Jul 1;59(7):1752-1764. doi: 10.1093/rheumatology/keaa016.


Objective: The aim was to evaluate the most relevant cell populations involved in vascular homeostasis as potential biomarkers of SLE-related cardiovascular disease (CVD).

Methods: Low-density granulocytes (LDGs), monocyte subsets, endothelial progenitor cells, angiogenic T (Tang) cells, CD4+CD28null and Th1/Th17 lymphocytes and serum cytokine levels were quantified in 109 SLE patients and 33 controls in relationship to the presence of subclinical carotid atheromatosis or cardiovascular disease. A second cohort including 31 recent-onset SLE patients was also included.

Results: Raised monocyte and LDG counts, particularly those LDGs negative for CD16/CD14 expression (nLDGs), in addition to the ratios of monocytes and nLDGs to high-density lipoprotein-cholesterol (HDLc) molecules (MHR and nLHR, respectively), were present in SLE patients with traditional risk factors or subclinical atheromatosis but not in those who were CV-free, thus revealing their value in the identification of patients at risk of CVD, even at the onset of disease. Accordingly, nLDGs were correlated positively with carotid intima-media thickness (cIMT) and with inflammatory markers (CRP and IL-6). A bias towards more differentiated monocyte subsets, related to increased IFN-α and IL-17 serum levels, was also observed in patients. Intermediate monocytes were especially expanded, but independently of their involvement in CVD. Finally, CD4+CD28null, Th17 and Th1 lymphocytes were increased, with CD4+CD28null and Th17 cells being associated with cIMT, whereas endothelial progenitor and Tang cell levels were reduced in all SLE patients.

Conclusion: The present study highlights the potential use of MHR and nLHR as valuable biomarkers of CVD risk in SLE patients, even at diagnosis. The increased amounts of nLDGs, monocytes, Th17 and senescent-CD28null subsets, coupled with reduced pro-angiogenic endothelial progenitor cells and Tang cells, could underlie the development of atheromatosis in SLE.

Keywords: angiogenic T cells; endothelial progenitor cells; high-density lipoprotein; low-density granulocytes; monocytes; subclinical atheromatosis; systemic lupus erythematosus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / blood
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cytokines / blood
  • Female
  • Granulocytes*
  • Humans
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / blood*
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / complications
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Monocytes*


  • Biomarkers
  • Cytokines