Numerous observations implicate interferon-α (IFNα) in the pathophysiology of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE); however, the potential impact of endogenous anti-IFNα autoantibodies (AIAAs) on IFN-pathway and disease activity is unclear. The aim of this study was to characterize IFN-pathway activity and the serologic and clinical profiles of AIAA-positive patients with SLE.
Sera obtained from patients with SLE (n = 49), patients with rheumatoid arthritis (n = 25), and healthy control subjects (n = 25) were examined for the presence of AIAAs, using a biosensor immunoassay. Serum type I IFN bioactivity and the ability of AIAA-positive sera to neutralize IFNα activity were determined using U937 cells. Levels of IFN-regulated gene expression in peripheral blood were determined by microarray, and serum levels of BAFF, IFN-inducible chemokines, and other autoantibodies were measured using immunoassays.
AIAAs were detected in 27% of the serum samples from patients with SLE, using a biosensor immunoassay. Unsupervised hierarchical clustering analysis identified 2 subgroups of patients, IFNlow and IFNhigh, that differed in the levels of serum type I IFN bioactivity, IFN-regulated gene expression, BAFF, anti–ribosomal P, and anti-chromatin autoantibodies, and in AIAA status. The majority of AIAA-positive patients had significantly lower levels of serum type I IFN bioactivity, reduced downstream IFN-pathway activity, and lower disease activity compared with the IFNhigh patients. AIAA-positive sera were able to effectively neutralize type I IFN activity in vitro.
Patients with SLE commonly harbor AIAAs. AIAA-positive patients have lower levels of serum type I IFN bioactivity and evidence for reduced downstream IFN-pathway and disease activity. AIAAs may influence the clinical course in SLE by blunting the effects produced by IFNα.