Role of autoantibodies and blood-brain barrier leakage in cognitive impairment in systemic lupus erythematosus

John G. Hanly, Alexandra Legge, Lyna Kamintsky, Alon Friedman, Javeria A. Hashmi, Steven D. Beyea, John Fisk, Antonina Omisade, Cynthia Calkin, Tim Bardouille, Chris Bowen, Kara Matheson, Marvin J. Fritzler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Objective Cognitive impairment is common in patients with SLE but the cause is unknown. The current cross-sectional study examined the association between select SLE-related autoantibodies, other serological biomarkers and extensive blood-brain barrier (BBB) leakage in patients with SLE with and without cognitive impairment. In addition, we determined whether the relationship between SLE autoantibodies, other biomarkers and cognitive impairment differed depending on the presence or absence of concurrent extensive BBB leakage. Methods Consecutive patients with SLE, recruited from a single academic medical centre, underwent formal neuropsychological testing for assessment of cognitive function. On the same day, BBB permeability was determined using dynamic contrast-enhanced MRI scanning. SLE autoantibodies and other serological biomarkers were measured. Regression modelling was used to determine the association between cognitive impairment, extensive BBB leakage and autoantibodies/biomarkers. Results There were 102 patients with SLE; 90% were female and 88% were Caucasian, with a mean±SD age of 48.9±13.8 years. The mean±SD SLE disease duration was 14.8±11.0 years. Impairment in one or more cognitive tests was present in 47 of 101 (47%) patients and included deficits in information processing speed (9%), attention span (21%), new learning (8%), delayed recall (15%) and executive abilities (21%). Extensive BBB leakage was present in 20 of 79 (25%) patients and was associated with cognitive impairment (15 of 20 (75%) vs 24 of 59 (41%); p=0.01) and shorter disease duration (median (IQR): 7 (8-24 years) vs 15 (2-16 years); p=0.02). No serological parameters were associated with extensive BBB leakage and there was no statistically significant association between cognitive impairment and circulating autoantibodies even after adjusting for BBB leakage. Conclusions Extensive BBB leakage alone was associated with cognitive impairment. These findings suggest that BBB leakage is an important contributor to cognitive impairment, regardless of circulating SLE-related autoantibodies.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere000668
JournalLupus Science and Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - 15 Jun 2022


  • Autoantibodies
  • Autoimmunity
  • Systemic Lupus Erythematosus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Rheumatology
  • Immunology


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