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Autoimmune connective tissue diseases arise in a stepwise fashion from asymptomatic preclinical autoimmunity. Type I interferons have a crucial role in the progression to established autoimmune diseases. The cellular source and regulation in disease initiation of these cytokines is not clear, but plasmacytoid dendritic cells have been thought to contribute to excessive type I interferon production. Here, we show that in preclinical autoimmunity and established systemic lupus erythematosus, plasmacytoid dendritic cells are not effector cells, have lost capacity for Toll-like-receptor-mediated cytokine production and do not induce T cell activation, independent of disease activity and the blood interferon signature. In addition, plasmacytoid dendritic cells have a transcriptional signature indicative of cellular stress and senescence accompanied by increased telomere erosion. In preclinical autoimmunity, we show a marked enrichment of an interferon signature in the skin without infiltrating immune cells, but with interferon-κ production by keratinocytes. In conclusion, non-hematopoietic cellular sources, rather than plasmacytoid dendritic cells, are responsible for interferon production prior to clinical autoimmunity.

Original publication




Journal article


Nat Commun

Publication Date





Autoimmunity, Cytokines, Dendritic Cells, Humans, Interferon Type I, Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic, Lymphocyte Activation, T-Lymphocytes, Toll-Like Receptors