MDPI, Cells, 17(11), p. 2619, 2022
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The severity of the coronavirus disease in 2019 (COVID-19) is strongly linked to a dysregulated immune response. This fuels the fear of severe disease in patients with autoimmune disorders continuously using immunosuppressive/immunomodulating medications. One complication of COVID-19 is thromboembolism caused by intravascular aggregates of neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs) occluding the affected vessels. Like COVID-19, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is characterized by, amongst others, an increased risk of thromboembolism. An imbalance between NET formation and clearance is suggested to play a prominent role in exacerbating autoimmunity and disease severity. Serologic evidence of exposure to SARS-CoV-2 has a minor impact on the SLE course in a Swedish cohort reportedly. Herein, we assessed NET formation in patients from this cohort by neutrophil elastase (NE) activity and the presence of cell-free DNA, MPO-DNA, and NE-DNA complexes and correlated the findings to the clinical parameters. The presence of NE-DNA complexes and NE activity differed significantly in pre-pandemic versus pandemic serum samples. The latter correlated significantly with the hemoglobin concentration, blood cell counts, and complement protein 3 and 4 levels in the pre-pandemic but only with the leukocyte count and neutrophil levels in the pandemic serum samples. Taken together, our data suggest a change, especially in the NE activity independent of exposure to SARS-CoV-2.