EBV load is associated with cfDNA fragmentation and renal damage in SLE patients

Background: For long Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) has been suspected to be involved in the pathogenesis of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). The aim of this study was to verify the association between EBV, cell-free DNA (cfDNA) and kidney disease in SLE.

Methods: Blood samples were obtained from 43 SLE patients and 50 healthy individuals. EBV load was measured via real-time PCR assay. Sizing and quantification of plasma cfDNA was performed on Bioanalyzer. We proposed that the uniformity of cfDNA fragmentation can be described using cfDNA fragmentation index.

Results: SLE patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD +) had higher EBV load compared to CKD(-) patients (P = 0.042). Patients with high cfDNA level had higher EBV load (P = 0.041) and higher cfDNA fragmentation index (P < 0.001) compared to patients with low cfDNA level. Among patients with high cfDNA level, EBV load was higher in CKD(+) group compared to CKD(-) group (P = 0.035). EBV load was positively correlated with the fragmentation index in all SLE patients (P = 0.028, R2 = 0.13), and the correlation was even more pronounced in CKD (+) patients (P < 0.001, R2 = 0.20).

Conclusions: We showed that EBV load was associated with non-uniform cfDNA fragmentation, higher cfDNA levels, and kidney disease in SLE patients. Although the causality of this relationship could not be determined with the current study, it brings rationale for further investigations on the role of EBV and cfDNA interplay in SLE pathogenesis.

Keywords: EBV; SLE; cell-free DNA; cfDNA; lupus nephritis.