Despite increased frequencies of neutrophils found in autoimmune diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), how they contribute to disease pathogenesis and the mechanisms that affect the accumulation of neutrophils are poorly understood. The aim of this study was to identify factors in autoantibody-mediated autoimmunity that controls the accumulation of spleen resident neutrophils and to determine whether neutrophils contribute to abnormal B cell responses. Increased levels of the cytokine BAFF have been linked to loss of B cell tolerance in autoimmunity, but the cellular source responsible for excess BAFF is unknown. B cell maturation antigen (BCMA) is a receptor for BAFF and is critical for the survival of bone marrow plasma cells. Paradoxically, BCMA deficiency exacerbates the formation of autoantibody-secreting plasma cells in spleens of lupus-prone mice and the reasons for this effect are not understood. Here we analyzed the phenotype, localization and function of neutrophils in spleens of healthy mice and congenic lupus-prone mice, and compared mice sufficient or deficient in BCMA expression. Neutrophils were found to be significantly increased in frequency and activation status in spleens of lupus-prone mice when BCMA was absent. Furthermore, neutrophils localized within T cell zones and enhanced CD4(+) T cell proliferation and IFNγ production through the production of BAFF. Reduced BAFF and IFNγ serum levels, decreased frequencies of IFNγ-producing T cells, germinal center B cells, and autoantibody production after neutrophil depletion indicated the involvement of neutrophils in these autoimmune traits. Thus, we have identified a novel role for BCMA to control excess BAFF production in murine lupus through restraining the accumulation of BAFF-producing neutrophils. Our data suggests that devising therapeutic strategies to reduce neutrophils in autoimmunity may decrease BAFF levels and ameliorate disease.
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