Cytokine profiling in active and quiescent SLE reveals distinct patient subpopulations

John A. Reynolds, Eoghan M McCarthy, Sahena Haque, Pintip Ngamjanyaporn, Jamie C Sergeant, Elaine Lee, Eileen Lee, Stephen A Kilfeather, Ben Parker, Ian N Bruce

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Patients with SLE display marked clinical and immunlogical heterogeneity. The purpose of the study was to investigate patterns of serum cytokines in patients with active and stable systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and to determine how they relate to clinical phenotype.


Serum levels of 10 cytokines were measured retrospectively in a cohort of patients with SLE and in healthy controls using a high-sensitivity multiplex bead array. Disease activity was determined using the Systemic Lupus Erythematosus Disease Activity Index 2000 (SLEDAI-2K) and British Isles Lupus Assessment Group (BILAG-2004) indices. Logistic regression models were used to determine the association between cytokine levels and active SLE. Principal component analysis (PCA) and cluster analysis was then used to identify subgroups of patients on the basis of cytokine levels.


Serum chemokine (C-X-C motif) ligand 10 (CXCL10) and CXCL13 were significantly higher in patients with SLE compared to healthy controls. Two cytokines (pentraxin-related protein (PTX3) and CXCL10) were significantly higher in patients with active disease after adjustment for potential confounding factors. Measurement of four cytokines (CXCL10, IL-10, IL-21 and PTX3) significantly improved the performance of a model to identify patients with clinically active disease. Cluster analysis revealed that the patients formed 3 distinct groups, characterised by higher levels of interferon alpha (IFNα) and B lymphocyte stimulator (BLyS) (group 1), increased CXCL10 and CXCL13 (group 2) or low levels of cytokines (group 3). Group 2 had significantly lower serum complement and higher anti-double-stranded DNA antibodies and increased prevalence of inflammatory arthritis.


Multiplex analysis has identified a serum cytokine signature for active SLE. Within the SLE population distinct cytokine subgroups were identified, with differing clinical and immunological phenotypes that appeared stable over time. Assessment of cytokine profiles may reveal unique insights into disease heterogeneity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)173
Number of pages10
JournalArthritis Research & Therapy
Publication statusPublished - 9 Aug 2018


  • Systemic lupus erythematosus
  • Cytokines
  • Biomarkers
  • Disease activity
  • Cluster analysis


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