Rabbit antisera were produced against pooled living lymphocytes from 25 patients with active systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Lymphocytes collected at plasmapheresis or venipuncture were frozen in liquid nitrogen and later coated with rabbit antibody to normal human tonsils and normal thymocytes immediately before intravenous immunization of rabbits. Antisera were subsequently extensively absorbed with normal human tonsillar cells, thymocytes, peripheral blood lymphocytes, erythrocytes, and leukocytes from patients with myelogeneous and lymphatic leukemia until residual base-line immunofluorescent staining of normal human lymphocytes using F(ab)2' of whole antisera averaged less than 5%. Absorbed pepsin-digested antisera detected membrane antigens which were markedly increased (mean 32%) on lymphocytes from patients with active SLE (P less than 0.05). Membrane antigens reacting with absorbed, pepsin-digested antisera were present on both T and B cells but, in most instances, predominated on T cells. Control observations using absorbed pepsin-digested antisera to normal human lymphocytes or peripheral blood lymphocytes from patients with rheumatoid arthritis showed no similar specificity. SLE patients treated with moderate or high dose corticosteroids or immunosuppressive agents (cytoxan or azathioprine) appeared to lose lymphocyte antigens detected by these reagents. Control studies with other connective tissue disease patients, miscellaneous hospitalized subjects, or normal controls showed low levels of reactivity (2-5%). SLE lymphocyte membrane antigens uniquely increased during active disease; this may represent neoantigens or alterations associated with the disease itself.
R C Williams Jr, G R Hughes, M L Snaith, H F Parry, E Diao, M F Greaves