Programmed cell death protein 1 (PD-1) plays an important role in immune response regulation as a co-inhibitory signal during T cell activation. However, there is little known about the serum autoantibody profile of PD-1 in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), a disease characterized by the breakdown of immune tolerance to self-antigens and an excessive production of autoantibodies. Thus, we aim to investigate the serum levels and function of anti-PD-1 in patients with new-onset SLE.
Serum levels of anti-PD-1 IgG and IgM isotypes were detected in new-onset SLE patients (n = 90), rheumatoid arthritis (n = 50), primary Sjogren's syndrome (n = 50), ankylosing spondylitis (n = 25), and healthy controls (HC) (n = 80) using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). The correlation of anti-PD-1 with clinical characteristics and laboratory parameters of patients with new-onset SLE was analyzed. The effects of purified anti-PD-1 IgG from SLE patients on T cell proliferation were measured using flow cytometry.
The data revealed increased levels of anti-PD-1 IgG, but not IgM, especially in new-onset SLE patients, and the positive rate of anti-PD-1 IgG was 30 (33.3%). The level of anti-PD-1 IgG was closely associated with malar rash (OR = 15.773), arthritis (OR = 22.937), serositis (OR = 16.008), hematological (OR = 35.187), renal (OR = 8.306), and neurological involvement (OR = 37.282). Moreover, the serum levels of anti-PD-1 IgG were positively correlated with the SLE disease activity index (SLEDAI) score (r = 0.296, p = 0.0046) and the erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) (r = 0.2446, p = 0.0201). In vitro examination showed that purified anti-PD-1 IgG obtained from SLE patients enhanced T cell proliferation when co-cultured with dendritic cells (DCs).
The current study indicates, for the first time, that the serum levels of co-inhibitor autoantibodies against PD-1 are elevated in new-onset SLE patients and are associated with disease activity in SLE. Autoantibodies against PD-1, facilitating T cell proliferation, revealed a new insight into the function of negative regulation signals involved in the pathogenesis of SLE.