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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Activation of transforming growth factor-β1 and early atherosclerosis in systemic lupus erythematosus

Michelle Jackson1, Yasmeen Ahmad2, Ian N Bruce2, Beatrice Coupes1 and Paul EC Brenchley1*

Author Affiliations

1 Renal Research Laboratories, Manchester Institute of Nephrology and Transplantation, Manchester Royal Infirmary, Manchester, UK

2 University of Manchester Rheumatism Research Centre, Central Manchester and Manchester Children's University NHS Trust, Manchester Royal Infirmary, Manchester, UK

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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2006, 8:R81  doi:10.1186/ar1951

Published: 28 April 2006


The efficiency of activating latent transforming growth factor (TGF)-β1 in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) may control the balance between inflammation and fibrosis, modulating the disease phenotype. To test this hypothesis we studied the ability to activate TGF-β1 in SLE patients and control individuals within the context of inflammatory disease activity, cumulative organ damage and early atherosclerosis. An Activation Index (AI) for TGF-β1 was determined for 32 patients with SLE and 33 age-matched and sex-matched control individuals by quantifying the increase in active TGF-β1 under controlled standard conditions. Apoptosis in peripheral blood mononuclear cells was determined by fluorescence-activated cell sorting. Carotid artery intima-media thickness was measured using standard Doppler ultrasound. These measures were compared between patients and control individuals. In an analysis conducted in patients, we assessed the associations of these measures with SLE phenotype, including early atherosclerosis. Both intima-media thickness and TGF-β1 AI for SLE patients were within the normal range. There was a significant inverse association between TGF-β1 AI and levels of apoptosis in peripheral blood mononuclear cells after 24 hours in culture for both SLE patients and control individuals. Only in SLE patients was there a significant negative correlation between TGF-β1 AI and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (r = -0.404; P = 0.022) and between TGF-β1 AI and carotid artery intima-media thickness (r = -0.587; P = 0.0004). A low AI was associated with irreversible damage (SLICC [Systemic Lupus International Collaborating Clinics] Damage Index ≥1) and was inversely correlated with disease duration. Intima-media thickness was significantly linked to total cholesterol (r = 0.371; P = 0.037). To conclude, in SLE low normal TGF-β1 activation was linked with increased lymphocyte apoptosis, irreversible organ damage, disease duration, calculated low-density lipoprotein levels and increased carotid IMT, and may contribute to the development of early atherosclerosis.