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PTEN regulates normal signaling through the B cell receptor (BCR). In systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), enhanced BCR signaling contributes to increased B cell activity, but the role of PTEN in human SLE has remained unclear. We performed fluorescence-activated cell sorting analysis in B cells from SLE patients and found that all SLE B cell subsets, except for memory B cells, showed decreased expression of PTEN compared with B cells from healthy controls. Moreover, the level of PTEN expression was inversely correlated with disease activity. We then explored the mechanisms governing PTEN regulation in SLE B cells. Notably, in normal but not SLE B cells, interleukin-21 (IL-21) induced PTEN expression and suppressed Akt phosphorylation induced by anti–immunoglobulin M and CD40L stimulation. However, this deficit was not primarily at the signaling or the transcriptional level, because IL-21–induced STAT3 (signal transducer and activator of transcription 3) phosphorylation was intact and IL-21 up-regulated PTEN mRNA in SLE B cells. Therefore, we examined the expression of candidate microRNAs (miRs) that could regulate PTEN: SLE B cells were found to express increased levels of miR-7, miR-21, and miR-22. These miRs down-regulated the expression of PTEN, and IL-21 stimulation increased the expression of miR-7 and miR-22 in both normal and SLE B cells. Indeed, a miR-7 antagomir corrected PTEN-related abnormalities in SLE B cells in a manner dependent on PTEN. Therefore, defective miR-7 regulation of PTEN contributes to B cell hyperresponsiveness in SLE and could be a new target of therapeutic intervention.
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