Dysregulation of innate and adaptive serum mediators precedes systemic lupus erythematosus classification and improves prognostic accuracy of autoantibodies

Rufei Lu, Melissa E. Munroe, Joel M. Guthridge, Krista M. Bean, Dustin A. Fife, Hua Chen, Samantha R. Slight-Webb, Michael P. Keith, John B. Harley, Judith A. James

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

76 Scopus citations


Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a complex autoimmune disease with a poorly understood preclinical stage of immune dysregulation and symptom accrual. Accumulation of antinuclear autoantibody (ANA) specificities is a hallmark of impending clinical disease. Yet, many ANA-positive individuals remain healthy, suggesting that additional immune dysregulation underlies SLE pathogenesis. Indeed, we have recently demonstrated that interferon (IFN) pathways are dysregulated in preclinical SLE. To determine if other forms of immune dysregulation contribute to preclinical SLE pathogenesis, we measured SLE-associated autoantibodies and soluble mediators in samples from 84 individuals collected prior to SLE classification (average timespan = 5.98 years), compared to unaffected, healthy control samples matched by race, gender, age (±5 years), and time of sample procurement. We found that multiple soluble mediators, including interleukin (IL)-5, IL-6, and IFN-γ, were significantly elevated in cases compared to controls more than 3.5 years pre-classification, prior to or concurrent with autoantibody positivity. Additional mediators, including innate cytokines, IFN-associated chemokines, and soluble tumor necrosis factor (TNF) superfamily mediators increased longitudinally in cases approaching SLE classification, but not in controls. In particular, levels of B lymphocyte stimulator (BLyS) and a proliferation-inducing ligand (APRIL) were comparable in cases and controls until less than 10 months pre-classification. Over the entire pre-classification period, random forest models incorporating ANA and anti-Ro/SSA positivity with levels of IL-5, IL-6, and the IFN-γ-induced chemokine, MIG, distinguished future SLE patients with 92% (±1.8%) accuracy, compared to 78% accuracy utilizing ANA positivity alone. These data suggest that immune dysregulation involving multiple pathways contributes to SLE pathogenesis. Importantly, distinct immunological profiles are predictive for individuals who will develop clinical SLE and may be useful for delineating early pathogenesis, discovering therapeutic targets, and designing prevention trials.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)182-193
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Autoimmunity
StatePublished - Nov 1 2016
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


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