Heme is an important iron-containing porphyrin molecule expressed ubiquitously in organisms. Recently, this endogenous molecule has been widely reported to be involved in the pathogenesis of numerous diseases such as sepsis, atherosclerosis and inflammatory bowel disease. However, the role of heme during systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) pathogenesis has not been previously evaluated. Herein, we have measured the levels of heme in lupus-prone mice and explored the influence of heme on the pathogenesis of lupus. We revealed that heme levels in serum, kidney and spleen lymphocytes are all negatively associated with the levels of proteinuria in lupus-prone mice. Heme supplementation at 15 mg/kg could significantly ameliorate the syndromes of lupus in MRL/lpr mice, extending lifespan, reducing the level of proteinuria and alleviating splenomegaly and lymphadenopathy. Further study demonstrated that heme replenishment corrected the abnormal compartment of T cell subsets, plasma cells and macrophages in the spleen and alleviates inflammation and oxidative damage in kidney of MRL/lpr mice. Our study well defined heme as a relevant endogenous molecule in the etiology of SLE, as well as a potential therapeutic target for treating this autoimmune disease. Meanwhile, heme replenishment might be a new choice to therapeutically modulate immune homeostasis and prevent SLE.
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