Antibodies against double-stranded DNA (dsDNA) are widely used to diagnose systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and evaluate its activity in patients. This study was undertaken to examine the clinical utility of circulating anti-dsDNA antibody-secreting cells for evaluating SLE patients. Anti-dsDNA antibody-secreting cells quantified using an enzyme-linked immunospot assay were detected in the spleen, bone marrow and peripheral blood from MRL/lpr but not in control BALB/c mice. Circulating anti-dsDNA antibody-secreting cells were detected in 29 (22%) of 130 patients with SLE, but in none of 49 with non-SLE connective-tissue disease or 18 healthy controls. The presence of circulating anti-dsDNA antibody-secreting cells was associated with persistent proteinuria, high SLE disease activity index and systemic lupus activity measures, and a high serum anti-dsDNA antibody titre measured with an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. The positive predictive value for active disease was 48% for circulating anti-dsDNA antibody-secreting cells versus 17% for serum anti-dsDNA antibodies. A prospective cohort of patients with circulating anti-dsDNA antibodies and inactive SLE showed that the cumulative disease flare-free rate was significantly lower in patients with than without circulating anti-dsDNA antibody-secreting cells (p<0.001). Circulating anti-dsDNA antibody-secreting cells are a useful biomarker for assessing disease activity in SLE patients.
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