Autoimmunity in Africa: Comparing Systemic Lupus Erythematosus and Anti-phospholipid Antibodies in Sudan and Sweden

Abstract: Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) is a chronic immune complex (IC)-mediated disease with variable prevalence worldwide, reported to be more common in Africans, Hispanics and Asians than in Caucasian populations. Expression of autoantibodies might vary between different ethnic populations due to environmental and genetic factors. Antiphospholipid antibodies (aPL) react with several antigenic targets of negatively charged phospholipids and/or associated plasma proteins. In this thesis we have studied the immunological and clinical characteristics of SLE in patients from Sudan and Sweden using an identical methodology. We have also investigated the occurrence of aPL during healthy pregnancies in both countries.Sudanese patients with SLE were younger, had shorter disease duration and suffered from more organ damage compared to Swedish patients. Neurological involvement, predominantly in young patients, was the main contributor to organ damage among the Sudanese patients. When comparing anti-nuclear antibody (ANA) specificities in IC between Sudanese and Swedish patients, different results from ANA detected in serum was observed. While serum ANA levels were mainly higher in Swedish SLE patients, levels of most ANA specificities in IC, particularly anti-chromatin specificities, were increased in Sudanese patients. In both cohorts, ANA in IC associated with more active SLE. Sudanese SLE patients had a higher prevalence of IgA aPL using common assay cut-off points. However, aPL levels among controls were also higher in Sudan, and when cut-offs were adjusted based on national controls the difference in prevalence between the patient groups was no longer evident. A more recently defined test measuring antibody against the phosphatidylserine/prothrombin complex was the best aPL predictor of thrombosis in Swedish SLE patients, independent of cardiovascular risk factors and antiphospholipid antibody syndrome criteria tests. Levels of IgA aPL, particularly anti-β2 glycoprotein I, were higher in normal pregnancies of healthy women from Sudan. This was not observed in Swedish pregnancies, and it was not due to reactivity against domain 1 of the β2 glycoprotein I molecule.Levels of autoantibodies differed both for patients and healthy individuals from Sudan and Sweden, and the occurrence of antibodies among patients depended on the cut-offs used. Adjustments to national cut-offs revealed more associations between autoantibody occurrence and clinical manifestations in Sudan. We recommend that the evaluation of autoantibody prevalence and clinical significance in autoimmune diseases in populations of African origin should rely on cut-offs based on controls from the same population, both in research and clinical contexts.