Expansion of extrafollicular B and T cell subsets in childhood-onset systemic lupus erythematosus

Front Immunol. 2023 Oct 27:14:1208282. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2023.1208282. eCollection 2023.


Introduction: Most childhood-onset SLE patients (cSLE) develop lupus nephritis (cLN), but only a small proportion achieve complete response to current therapies. The prognosis of children with LN and end-stage renal disease is particularly dire. Mortality rates within the first five years of renal replacement therapy may reach 22%. Thus, there is urgent need to decipher and target immune mechanisms that drive cLN. Despite the clear role of autoantibody production in SLE, targeted B cell therapies such as rituximab (anti-CD20) and belimumab (anti-BAFF) have shown only modest efficacy in cLN. While many studies have linked dysregulation of germinal center formation to SLE pathogenesis, other work supports a role for extrafollicular B cell activation in generation of pathogenic antibody secreting cells. However, whether extrafollicular B cell subsets and their T cell collaborators play a role in specific organ involvement in cLN and/or track with disease activity remains unknown.

Methods: We analyzed high-dimensional mass cytometry and gene expression data from 24 treatment naïve cSLE patients at the time of diagnosis and longitudinally, applying novel computational tools to identify abnormalities associated with clinical manifestations (cLN) and disease activity (SLEDAI).

Results: cSLE patients have an extrafollicular B cell expansion signature, with increased frequency of i) DN2, ii) Bnd2, iii) plasmablasts, and iv) peripheral T helper cells. Most importantly, we discovered that this extrafollicular signature correlates with disease activity in cLN, supporting extrafollicular T/B interactions as a mechanism underlying pediatric renal pathogenesis.

Discussion: This study integrates established and emerging themes of extrafollicular B cell involvement in SLE by providing evidence for extrafollicular B and peripheral T helper cell expansion, along with elevated type 1 IFN activation, in a homogeneous cohort of treatment-naïve cSLE patients, a point at which they should display the most extreme state of their immune dysregulation.

Keywords: CyTOF; SLE; T peripheral helper cells; anergic B cells; interferon; nephritis; plasmablasts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • B-Lymphocytes
  • Child
  • Humans
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic*
  • Lupus Nephritis*
  • T-Lymphocyte Subsets / metabolism
  • T-Lymphocytes, Helper-Inducer