Background The NKT-like cells were known to play a role of the suppression in many chronic inflammatory diseases. This study was designed to investigate both of the expression and the possible role of NKT-like cells in SLE patients.
Methods 79 patients with SLE together with 30 age- and sex-matched healthy controls were enrolled. Flow cytometric determination of peripheral NKT-like cells was carried out for all participants by detecting the absolute counts (Abs) and percentage (%) of CD3+CD16+CD56+ cells. Disease activity index, laboratory parameters and clinical manifestations were collected. The correlation between the cells and these parameters were analyzed.
Results SLE patients had, with respect to controls, considerably decreased values of NKT-like cells (P < 0.001 in both absolute number and percentage). The absolute number of NKT-like cells were found to have positive correlations with WBC, RBC, PLT, C3, C4, IgM and negative correlations with the disease duration, SLEDAI-2K, anti-dsDNA, anti-nucleosome, anti-ribosomal protein, and CRP, ESR. Meanwhile, it was found that the percentage values of NKT-like cells decreased in SLE patients with nephritis which was correlated with anti-ribosomal protein and CRP in comparison to SLE patients without nephritis. Moreover, an increase in the NKT-like cell counts was also observed in the patients with a clinical response to the treatment.
Conclusions The absolute counts and frequencies of NKT-like cells decreased in SLE patients significantly, which correlated to disease activities and could recover to normal after the treatment. The NKT-like cells may play an important role in the pathogenesis of SLE and could be a useful marker in the disease assessment.
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