• Altered lymphocytes cause heart damage in patients with lupus or rheumatoid arthritis

    December 15, 2015

    New study carried out by the University of Oviedo identifies new vascular injury biomarkers not related with traditional risk factors like high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, smoking or obesity

    Explanatory graph.

    The decrease and/or aging of a specific type of lymphocytes may bring along vascular problems in patients suffering from autoimmune diseases like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. This is the main conclusion drawn by the study carried out by researchers of the University of Oviedo, which opens new possibilities for the development of personalized therapies for risk patients.

    The work, developed by a group of the Department of Immunology of the University of Oviedo, analyzed the T angiogenic lymphocyte population, a type of lymphoid cells, in patients suffering from lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. The major role of these T lymphocytes is to collaborate with the endothelial progenitor cells in vascular repair of damaged tissue.

    This work opens a new path in the design of new therapies to treat patients with autoinmune diseases.

    Results revealed a relevant decrease in the T lymphocytes count in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. This decrease was more pronounced in patients that had suffered a cardiovascular event not related with the classical risk factors like high blood pressure, smoking or obesity. Research also revealed, as the most innovative aspect, that in the case of patients with lupus, the early aging of these T lymphocytes may turn their protective function into a destructive one through mechanisms of cell toxicity and inflammation, which alter the cardiovascular health of patients. The clinical evaluation of patients under study showed a connection between these T lymphocytes and the level of their disease activity.

    This research work is included in the framework of a project funded by the Carlos III Health Institute, with the participation of experts of the Department of Functional Biology of the University of Oviedo, doctors of the service of Internal Medicine and Rheumatology of the University Hospital of Asturias (HUCA) and the Medical Center of Pola de Siero. The main goal of this study is to determine new biomarkers that allow detecting cardiovascular risk in people with autoimmune diseases like lupus and/or rheumatoid arthritis.

    Patricia López Suárez, professor of the Department of Functional Biology and member of the research group, reminds that the development of early atherosclerosis –cardiovascular damage—is one of the most common consequences in patients with autoimmune diseases. Interestingly, this disease cannot be explained only because of the existence of the so called traditional risk factors, like high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, smoking obesity or sedentary lifestyle, but it seems to depend on new factors related to the disease.

    The researcher also adds that the cardiovascular health of these patients depends on the balance between vascular damage and repair. The balance between damage and repair may be disturbed due to factors that are difficult to detect, which have been related to chronic inflammation, pharmacological treatments, and alterations in cells and molecules of the immunological system. These variables are present to a greater extent, although not exclusively, in patients with autoimmune diseases. That is why it is crucial, as the study concludes, to achieve further knowledge of the new cardiovascular risk factors in order to identify new cardiovascular and atherosclerosis risk factors which allow for early detection thus preventing heart problems.


    • Senescent profile of angiogenic T cells from systemic lupus erythematosus patients. Patricia López, Javier Rodríguez-Carrio , Aleida Martínez-Zapico, Luis Caminal-Montero, Ana Suarez. Journal of Leukocyte Biology, 2015. pii: jlb.5HI0215-042R. (publicado on line el 31 de Julio de 2015).
    • Angiogenic T cells are decreased in rheumatoid arthritis patients. Javier Rodríguez-Carrio, Mercedes Alperi-López, Patricia López, Sara Alonso-Castro, Francisco Javier Ballina-García, Ana Suárez. Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases, 2015; 74 (5): 921-7.

    Cover picture: Lymphocyte.