Serendipitous evidence of T lymphocyte activation in close female relatives of patients with systemic lupus erythematosus
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A well-recognized characteristic of the autoimmune disease, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), is the high level of activated T cells present in the blood. Because of the increased size and granularity of activated T cells, in flow cytometry one might expect to find increased numbers of cells falling outside a standard light-scatter lymphocyte gate, and indeed we now report that the percentage of T lymphocytes in the gate (% TiG) was below the normal range in 23 of 58 (40%) female patients because of increased scatter values. However, the surprising additional observation was made that 18 of 30 (60%) female first-degree relatives of the patients also fell below the normal % TiG range, suggesting the presence of T cell activation in these relatives. This view is strengthened by the strong inverse correlation between plasma total immunoglobulin G(IgG), which was raised in some relatives, and % TiG, as T cell activation is a requirement for IgG production. Conversely, there was no correlation with IgM, which has no comparable link with T cell activation. While a definitive interpretation must await the demonstration of activation antigen expression in relatives, these findings suggest the existence of a T cell activation trait, not harmful in itself, which, however, contributes to the development of disease in patients with SLE.
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