Interleukin–21 is increased in active systemic lupus erythematosus patients and contributes to the generation of plasma B cells

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Laboratory of Autoimmunity and Inflammation, Rheumatology, Clinical Immunology and Allergy, Medical School, University of Crete, and Institute for Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, FORTH, Greece. mnakou@hotmail.com

CER5206 Submission on line
2013 Vol.31, N°2 - PI 0172, PF 0179
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Rheumatology Article



Excessive interleukin- (IL-) 21 production by T cells has been implicated in the pathogenesis of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). We explored the expression and function of IL-21 in human SLE.
IL-21 and IL-21 receptor (IL-21R) expression was assessed by real-time PCR and flow cytometry in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) of SLE patients and healthy controls. PBMCs, purified CD19+CD27– naïve and CD19+CD27+ memory B cells were stimulated with IL-21 and CpG-ODN2006 (TLR-9 agonist) to examine generation of memory and plasma (CD19+CD38highIgD–) B cells. Apoptosis was assessed by 7AAD staining.
Active SLE patients had 4-fold higher IL-21 mRNA and increased levels of intracellular IL-21 in peripheral blood CD4+ T cells (mean±SD fluorescence intensity, 1.7±0.1 in active versus 0.9±0.3 in inactive SLE and controls, p=0.035). IL-21R mRNA was comparable between SLE and healthy controls. Stimulation of PBMCs with IL-21 increased the proportion of memory and plasma cells; addition of CpG-ODN2006 enhanced these effects. Both naïve and memory B cells responded to IL-21/TLR-9 by increased generation of memory and plasma B cells, respectively; an anti-apoptotic effect was observed. In active SLE, PBMCs stimulation with IL-21 and/or CpG-ODN increased memory and plasma B cells, comparable to healthy controls. Addition of IL-21 to lupus autologous mixed lymphocyte cultures induced significant IgG production, and treatment with IL-21R.Fc to block IL-21/IL-21R interaction reduced the proportion of plasma cells.
Increased IL-21 may synergise with TLR-9 signalling and contributes to generation of plasma cells in active SLE patients.

PMID: 23137515 [PubMed]

Received: 28/10/2011 - Accepted : 14/05/2012 - In Press: 06/11/2012 - Published: 15/03/2013