The incidence of connective tissue diseases such as systemic lupus erythematous (SLE), in adult patients with sickle cell disease (SCD), appears to be increasing. The exact causes underlying this increased risk are still unknown, but a link with B regulatory (Breg) cells is possible as these cells suppress inflammatory responses, and maintain tolerance. Quantitative and qualitative analyses of circulating Breg cells were performed in a cohort of SCD patients with SLE, and their levels were correlated with key soluble mediators promoting autoreactive B cells. We demonstrated that levels of Breg cells were significantly decreased in SCD patients with SLE compared to patients with SCD only or healthy controls. Functional analysis of Breg cells from SCD patients with SLE revealed impairments in IL-10 production that correlated with lower levels of STAT3 phosphorylation, without abnormal expression of IL-10 receptor on Breg cells. On the other hand, BAFF levels were substantially elevated in SCD patients with SLE, but not significantly associated with Breg cell levels. Collectively, these results indicated numerical and functional deficits of Breg cells in SCD patients with SLE and their capacity to maintain tolerance and control inflammation is imbalanced, which leads to the development of autoimmune responses.
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