BackgroundPrimary Sjögren’s syndrome (pSS) is a common chronic autoimmune disease characterized by lymphocytic infiltration of exocrine glands and peripheral lymphocyte perturbation. In the current study, we aimed to investigate the possible pathogenic implication of autophagy in T lymphocytes in patients with pSS.MethodsThirty consecutive pSS patients were recruited together with 20 patients affected by sicca syndrome and/or chronic sialoadenitis and 30 healthy controls. Disease activity and damage were evaluated according to SS disease activity index, EULAR SS disease activity index, and SS disease damage index. T lymphocytes were analyzed for the expression of autophagy-specific markers by biochemical, molecular, and histological assays in peripheral blood and labial gland biopsies. Serum interleukin (IL)-23 and IL-21 levels were quantified by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay.ResultsOur study provides evidence for the first time that autophagy is upregulated in CD4+ T lymphocyte salivary glands from pSS patients. Furthermore, a statistically significant correlation was detected between lymphocyte autophagy levels, disease activity, and damage indexes. We also found a positive correlation between autophagy enhancement and the increased salivary gland expression of IL-21 and IL-23, providing a further link between innate and adaptive immune responses in pSS.ConclusionsThese findings suggest that CD4+ T lymphocyte autophagy could play a key role in pSS pathogenesis. Additionally, our data highlight the potential exploitation of T cell autophagy as a biomarker of disease activity and provide new ground to verify the therapeutic implications of autophagy as an innovative drug target in pSS.