The central role of nucleic acids in the pathogenesis of systemic lupus erythematosus.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a prototypic autoimmune disease whose pathogenesis can be conceptualized by a model based on a central role for immune complexes (ICs) between antinuclear antibodies and nucleic acids. According to this model, ICs can promote pathogenesis by two main mechanisms: deposition in the tissue to incite local inflammation and interaction with cells of the innate immune system to stimulate the production of cytokines, most prominently type 1 interferon. The latter stimulation results from the uptake of DNA and RNA in the form of ICs into cells and subsequent signaling by internal nucleic acid sensors for DNA and RNA. These sensors are likely important for the response to intracellular infection, although they may also be triggered during cell stress or injury by DNA or RNA aberrantly present in the cytoplasm. For IC formation, a source of extracellular DNA and RNA is essential. The current model of SLE posits that cell death is the origin of the nucleic acids in the ICs and that impairment of clearance mechanisms increases the amount of nuclear material in the extracellular space. This model of SLE is important since it points to new approaches to therapy; agents targeting interferon or the interferon receptor are examples of therapeutic approaches derived from this model. Future studies will explore novel biomarkers to monitor the operation of these mechanisms and to elucidate other steps in pathogenesis that can be targeted for therapy.
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