The cell surface phenotype of peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBL) of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) patients was characterized with the anti-2H4 monoclonal antibody that defines the human suppressor inducer subset. The T4+2H4+ population of cells has been shown to be critical for the activation of T8+ suppressor cells. Patients with SLE had a markedly decreased percentage of T4+2H4+ cells (13 ± 2%) in their PBL compared with normal controls (21 ± 1%) (P < 0.001). This reduction was greatest in patients with active SLE, especially those with renal disease. Serial analysis of patients with SLE and renal disease showed a correlation between percent positive circulating T4+2H4+ cells and disease activity. Moreover, there was a significant correlation between a low percentage of T4+2H4+ cells and decreased suppressor-inducer function in autologous mixed lymphocyte reaction-activated T4+ cells from SLE patients. Thus, a deficiency exists in SLE patients with active renal disease in the T4+2H4+ suppressor-inducer T cell subset.
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