The damage and pathology of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is caused by type III hypersensitivity reactions. Autoantibodies produced in SLE are directed against nuclear and cytoplasmic proteins. Anti-nuclear antibodies (ANAs) are present in more than 95% of patients with SLE, with additional autoantibodies including anti-double–stranded DNA (ds-DNA) and anti-Sm antibodies (antibodies to small nuclear ribonucleoprotein). Anti-ds-DNA and anti-Sm antibodies are unique to patients with SLE; thus, their presence is included in the classification criteria of SLE. Cellular interaction with autoantibodies leads to nuclear and cellular destruction, with components released after cell death leading to the formation of immune complexes.
Because autoantibodies in SLE can target a wide variety of cells, symptoms of SLE can occur in many body locations. However, the most common symptoms include fatigue, fever with no other cause, hair loss, and a sunlight-sensitive “butterfly” or wolf-mask (lupus) rash that is found in about 50% of people with SLE. The rash is most often seen over the cheeks and bridge of the nose, but can be widespread. Other symptoms may appear depending on affected areas. The joints may be affected, leading to arthritis of the fingers, hands, wrists, and knees. Effects on the brain and nervous system can lead to headaches, numbness, tingling, seizures, vision problems, and personality changes. There may also be abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, arrhythmias, shortness of breath, and blood in the sputum. Effects on the skin can lead to additional areas of skin lesions, and vasoconstriction can cause color changes in the fingers when they are cold (Raynaud phenomenon). Effects on the kidneys can lead to edema in the legs and weight gain. A diagnosis of SLE depends on identification of four of 11 of the most common symptoms and confirmed production of an array of autoantibodies unique to SLE. A positive test for ANAs alone is not diagnostic.
Parker, N., Schneegurt, M., Thi Tu, A.-H., Forster, B. M., & Lister, P. (n.d.). Microbiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/details/books/microbiology