Epigenetic Reprogramming in Naive CD4+ T Cells Favoring T Cell Activation and Non-Th1 Effector T Cell Immune Response as an Early Event in Lupus Flares

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Arthritis Rheumatol


OBJECTIVE: Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a relapsing autoimmune disease that affects multiple organ systems. T cells play an important role in the pathogenesis of lupus; however, early T cell events triggering disease flares are incompletely understood. This study was undertaken to examine DNA methylation in naive CD4+ T cells from lupus patients to determine if epigenetic remodeling in CD4+ T cells is an early event in lupus flares.

METHODS: A total of 74 lupus patients with an SLE Disease Activity Index score of 0-18 were included. Naive CD4+ T cells were isolated from peripheral blood samples, and DNA was extracted for genome-wide methylation assessment. RNA was also extracted from a subset of patients to determine the relationship between epigenetic changes and transcription activity using RNA sequencing and microRNA arrays.

RESULTS: We demonstrated that naive CD4+ T cells in lupus undergo an epigenetic proinflammatory shift, implicating effector T cell responses in lupus flare. This epigenetic landscape change occurs without changes in expression of the corresponding genes, poises naive CD4+ T cells for Th2, Th17, and follicular helper T cell immune responses, and opposes inhibitory transforming growth factor β signaling. Bioinformatics analyses indicate that the epigenetic modulator EZH2 might play an important role in shifting the epigenetic landscape, with increased disease activity in lupus naive CD4+ T cells. Further, the expression of microRNA-26a, which is sensitive to glucose availability and targets EZH2, was negatively correlated with disease activity in lupus patients.

CONCLUSION: An epigenetic landscape shift in naive CD4+ T cells that favors T cell activation and non-Th1 immune responses predates transcription activity and correlates with lupus activity. A role for EZH2 dysregulation in triggering lupus flares warrants further investigation.

Medical Subject Headings

Adolescent; Adult; Aged; CD4-Positive T-Lymphocytes; DNA Methylation; Epigenesis, Genetic; Female; Humans; Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic; Lymphocyte Activation; Middle Aged; T-Lymphocytes, Helper-Inducer; Time Factors; Young Adult

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