Intralysosomal cystine crystal accumulation, due tomutations in the CTNS gene, is a hallmark of nephropathic cystinosis, but the role of these crystals in disease pathogenesis remains unclear. We hypothesized that, similar to other host-derived crystalline moieties, cystine crystals can induce IL-1β production through inflammasome activation. Thus, we investigated the proinflammatory effects of cystine crystals in primary human PBMCs. LPS-primed PBMCs stimulated with cystine crystals secreted IL-1β in a dose-dependent manner. Similarly to IL-1β secretion induced by other crystalline inflammasome activators, cystine crystal-induced IL-1β secretion required activation of caspase-1. Additionally, exogenous cystine crystals were internalized by monocytes, and inhibition of phagocytosis, cathepsin B leakage, generation of reactive oxygen species, and potassium efflux reduced cystine crystal-induced IL-1β secretion. Patients with cystinosis had higher levels of circulating IL-1β and IL-18 compared with controls. Analysis of inflammasome-related gene expression in PBMCs from patients with cystinosis revealed a significant increase in IL-1β and CASP-1 transcript levels compared with controls. Moreover, knockout of cystinosin in mice led to significant increases in serum IL-18 levels and kidney expression of inflammasome-related genes (Casp-1, Pycard, Il-18, Il18r1, Il1r1, and Il1rl2). Taken together, these data demonstrate that cystine crystals are endogenous inflammasome-activating stimuli, suggesting a novel role for cystine crystals in the pathogenesis of nephropathic cystinosis.
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