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Upregulation of interferon-regulated genes (IRGs), denoted IFN signature, in peripheral blood has been used as an indirect measure of IFN pathway activation in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). However, it has not been determined, which IFN signatures that optimally reflect clinical disease activity. In this study, we determined an IFN signature based on the expression of 128 IRGs in whole blood from 34 SLE patients in a cross-sectional (CS) study, 11 with active lupus nephritis followed longitudinally (LS) and 15 healthy controls. Blood samples were collected in PAXgene tubes and RNA was extracted and purified using a PAXgene blood RNA kit (Qiagen). Gene expression was measured using the NanoString nCounter Gene Expression platform. The CS SLE patients with higher disease activity displayed thrice as many upregulated IRGs (n = 46) as the rest. These IRGs clustered in three groups, consisting of IRGs known to be predominantly stimulated by type I (gene cluster K1) and type II (gene clusters K2 and 3) IFNs. SLEDAI-2K scores associated with the K2 and K3 gene scores (β = 0.372 and β = 0.419, both p < 0.015) but not with K1. In the longitudinal study, the mean SLEDAI-2K score decreased after an average follow-up of 360 days (β = −2.08, P = 5.09 × 10−12). The mean K1, K2 and K3 gene scores did not change over time, however longitudinal changes in SLEDAI-2K and K3 scores were associated (β = 0.814, p = 0.007). This study validates the presence of type I IRG subsets that do not associate with disease activity in SLE patients. The novel finding in this study is the association between a type II IRG subset and disease activity. Both findings may have significant implications for choosing IRGs defining clinically relevant IFN signatures.

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Journal article


Journal of Autoimmunity

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