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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

CD4+CD25-Foxp3+ T cells: a marker for lupus nephritis?

Michael Bonelli, Lisa Göschl, Stephan Blüml, Thomas Karonitsch, Carl-Walter Steiner, Günter Steiner, Josef S Smolen and Clemens Scheinecker*

Author Affiliations

Division of Rheumatology, Internal Medicine III, General Hospital of Vienna, Medical University of Vienna (MUW), Waehringer Guertel 18-20, Vienna A-1090, Austria

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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2014, 16:R104  doi:10.1186/ar4553

Published: 28 April 2014



Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a heterogenous autoimmune disease, which can affect different organs. Increased proportions of CD4+CD25-Foxp3+ T cells have been described in SLE patients. The exact role of this cell population in SLE patients still remains unclear. We therefore analyzed this T cell subset in a large cohort of SLE patients with different organ manifestations.


Phenotypic analyses, proportions and absolute cell numbers of CD4+CD25-Foxp3+ T cells were determined by flow cytometry (FACS) in healthy controls (HC) (n = 36) and SLE patients (n = 61) with different organ manifestations. CD4+CD25-Foxp3+ T cells were correlated with clinical data, the immunosuppressive therapy and different disease activity indices. In patients with active glomerulonephritis, CD4+CD25-Foxp3+ T cells were analyzed in urine sediment samples. Time course analyses of CD4+CD25-Foxp3+ T cells were performed in patients with active disease activity before and after treatment with cyclophosphamide and prednisone.


CD4+CD25-Foxp3+ T cells were significantly increased in active SLE patients and the majority expressed Helios. Detailed analysis of this patient cohort revealed increased proportions of CD4+CD25-Foxp3+ T cells in SLE patients with renal involvement. CD4+CD25-Foxp3+ T cells were also detected in urine sediment samples of patients with active glomerulonephritis and correlated with the extent of proteinuria.


CD4+CD25-Foxp3+ T cells resemble regulatory rather than activated T cells. Comparative analysis of CD4+CD25-Foxp3+ T cells in SLE patients revealed a significant association of this newly described cell population with active nephritis. Therefore CD4+CD25-Foxp3+ T cells might serve as an important tool to recognize and monitor SLE patients with renal involvement.