Dendritic cells (DCs) are important in regulating both immunity and tolerance. Hence, we hypothesized that systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), an autoimmune disease characterized by autoreactive B and T cells, may be caused by alterations in the functions of DCs. Consistent with this, monocytes from SLE patients' blood were found to function as antigen-presenting cells, in vitro. Furthermore, serum from SLE patients induced normal monocytes to differentiate into DCs. These DCs could capture antigens from dying cells and present them to CD4-positive T cells. The capacity of SLE patients' serum to induce DC differentiation correlated with disease activity and depended on the actions of interferon-α (IFN-α). Thus, unabated induction of DCs by IFN-α may drive the autoimmune response in SLE.
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