US study reveals interferon combinations cause lupus symptoms and affect treatment

The autoimmune disease, which affects 1.5 million people in the US, causes the body’s immune system to attack its own tissues

Researchers from Johns Hopkins Medicine have revealed that certain combinations of antiviral proteins are responsible for symptoms and affect treatment outcomes for patients with lupus.

Published in Cell Reports Medicine, researchers suggest that the findings could lead to changes in how clinicians treat patients with the condition.

Affecting up to 1.5 million people in the US, lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes the body’s immune system to attack its own tissues.

In clinical trials for lupus treatments designed to suppress interferon I, researchers observed that patients’ conditions failed to improve, despite genetic testing showing high interferon I levels prior to treatment.

The team predicted that two other interferon groups, interferon II and interferon III, could be the reason for poor treatment responses in lupus patients.

Looking at different combinations of interferon I, II and III and their overactivity, researchers took 341 samples from 191 lupus patients to determine the activity of the three interferon groups, using human cell lines engineered to react to the presence of each group to analyse the samples.

Researchers found that the majority of participants fell into four categories: increased interferon; combination of increased interferons I, II and III; combination of increased interferons II and III; and normal interferon levels.

The team then made several associations between these interferon combinations and lupus systems. In patients with elevated levels of interferon I, lupus was mainly associated with symptoms affecting the skin, while those with elevated levels of interferon I, II and III showed severe presentations of lupus, such as organ system damage.

Eduardo Gómez-Bañuelos, assistant professor of medicine, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said: “These interferon groups are not isolated; they work as a team in lupus and can give patients different presentations of the disease.

“Evaluating a patient’s elevated interferon combinations allows for a better understanding of how they may react to treatments and would allow clinicians to group them into clinical subtypes of lupus.”

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