Effects of short-term infliximab therapy on autoantibodies in systemic lupus erythematosus




To analyze changes in autoantibodies occurring in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) treated with 4 infusions of the chimeric anti–tumor necrosis factor α (TNFα) antibody infliximab.


In an open-label safety study, 7 patients with SLE were treated with infliximab at weeks 0, 2, 6, and 10 in combination with azathioprine or methotrexate. Antibodies to double-stranded DNA (dsDNA) were determined by radioimmunoassay and the Crithidia luciliae indirect immunofluorescence assay; anticardiolipin antibodies (aCL) and antibodies to histone and chromatin were measured by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. Antihistone antibodies were also analyzed by immunoblotting. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells from healthy individuals and SLE patients were incubated for 2 weeks with or without TNFα. TNFα was removed by washing and by the addition of infliximab. Apoptotic cells were stained with annexin V and analyzed by flow cytometry.


Autoantibodies to dsDNA increased in 5 of 7 patients. Histone, chromatin, and IgM aCL levels were increased in 4 of 7, 6 of 7, and 4 of 7 patients, respectively, peaking 4–10 weeks after the last infliximab infusion, but falling to baseline levels or lower thereafter. In the in vitro experiments, TNF withdrawal after long-term incubation with recombinant human TNF led to increased percentages of apoptotic cells.


While TNF blockade was clinically effective, the majority of SLE patients treated with infliximab showed an increase in autoantibodies to nuclear antigens and phospholipids. These increases were transient and were not associated with disease flares. Increased availability of apoptotic antigens after TNF blockade may play a role in the autoantibody formation induced by TNF blockade.