Journal of translational medicine

Downregulation of PHEX in multibacillary leprosy patients: observational cross-sectional study.

PMID 26362198


Peripheral nerve injury and bone lesions, well known leprosy complications, lead to deformities and incapacities. The phosphate-regulating gene with homologies to endopeptidase on the X chromosome (PHEX) encodes a homonymous protein (PHEX) implicated in bone metabolism. PHEX/PHEX alterations may result in bone and cartilage lesions. PHEX expression is downregulated by intracellular Mycobacterium leprae (M. leprae) in cultures of human Schwann cells and osteoblasts. M. leprae in vivo effect on PHEX/PHEX is not known. Cross-sectional observational study of 36 leprosy patients (22 lepromatous and 14 borderline-tuberculoid) and 20 healthy volunteers (HV). The following tests were performed: PHEX flow cytometric analysis on blood mononuclear cells, cytokine production in culture supernatant, 25-hydroxyvitamin D (OHvitD) serum levels and (99m)Tc-MDP three-phase bone scintigraphy, radiography of upper and lower extremities and blood and urine biochemistry. Significantly lower PHEX expression levels were observed in lepromatous patients than in the other groups (χ(2) = 16.554, p < 0.001 for lymphocytes and χ(2) = 13.933, p = 0.001 for monocytes). Low levels of 25-(OHvitD) were observed in HV (median = 23.0 ng/mL) and BT patients (median = 27.5 ng/mL) and normal serum levels were found in LL patients (median = 38.6 ng/mL). Inflammatory cytokines, such as TNF, a PHEX transcription repressor, were lower after stimulation with M. leprae in peripheral blood mononuclear cells from lepromatous in comparison to BT patients and HV (χ(2) = 10.820, p < 0.001). Downregulation of PHEX may constitute an important early component of bone loss and joint damage in leprosy. The present results suggest a direct effect produced by M. leprae on the osteoarticular system that may use this mechanism.