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  • Expression of citrulline and homocitrulline residues in the lungs of non-smokers and smokers: implications for autoimmunity in rheumatoid arthritis.

    6 March 2018

    INTRODUCTION: Smoking is a well-established risk factor for rheumatoid arthritis (RA), and it has been proposed that smoking-induced citrullination renders autoantigens immunogenic. To investigate this mechanism, we examined human lung tissue from 40 subjects with defined smoking status, with or without chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and control tissues from other organs for citrullinated proteins and the deiminating enzymes peptidylarginine deiminase type-2 (PAD2) and -4 (PAD4). METHODS: Lung tissue samples, dissected from lobectomy specimens from 10 never smokers, 10 smokers without airflow limitation, 13 COPD smokers and eight COPD ex-smokers, and control tissue samples (spleen, skeletal muscle, liver, ovary, lymph node, kidney and heart), were analysed for citrullinated proteins, PAD2 and PAD4 by immunoblotting. Citrulline and homocitrulline residues in enolase and vimentin were analysed by partial purification by gel electrophoresis followed by mass spectrometry in 12 of the lung samples and one from each control tissues. Band intensities were scored semi-quantitatively and analysed by two-tailed Mann-Whitney T-test. RESULTS: Within the lung tissue samples, citrullinated proteins, PAD2 and PAD4 were found in all samples, with an increase in citrullination in COPD (P = 0.039), but minimal difference between smokers and non-smokers (P = 0.77). Citrullination was also detected at lower levels in the tissues from other organs, principally in lymph node, kidney and skeletal muscle. Mass spectrometry of the lung samples showed that vimentin was citrullinated at positions 71, 304, 346, 410 and 450 in non-smokers and smokers both with and without COPD. A homocitrulline at position 104 was found in four out of six COPD samples and one out of six non-COPD. Citrulline-450 was also found in three of the control tissues. There were no citrulline or homocitrulline residues demonstrated in α-enolase. CONCLUSIONS: We have shown evidence of citrullination of vimentin, a major autoantigen in RA, in both non-smokers and smokers. The increase in citrullinated proteins in COPD suggests that citrullination in the lungs of smokers is mainly due to inflammation. The ubiquity of citrullination of vimentin in the lungs and other tissues suggests that the relationship between smoking and autoimmunity in RA may be more complex than previously thought.

  • Bacterial and human peptidylarginine deiminases: targets for inhibiting the autoimmune response in rheumatoid arthritis?

    16 March 2018

    Peptidylarginine deiminases (PADs) convert arginine within a peptide (peptidylarginine) into peptidylcitrulline. Citrullination by human PADs is important in normal physiology and inflammation. Porphyromonas gingivalis, a major pathogen in periodontitis, is the only prokaryote described to possess PAD. P. gingivalis infection may generate citrullinated peptides, which trigger anti-citrullinated peptide antibodies. In susceptible individuals, host protein citrullination by human PADs in the joint probably perpetuates antibody formation, paving the way for the development of chronic arthritis. Blockades of bacterial and human PADs may act as powerful novel therapies by inhibiting the generation of the antigens that trigger and sustain autoimmunity in rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Epitope spreading in animal models: array of hope in rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis.

    12 December 2017

    The paradigm for pathogenic autoimmunity is the generation of high-titre, affinity-matured autoantibodies to a restricted family of autoantigens, in the appropriate genetic context. Genetic determinants of autoimmunity are largely found within the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) and the 'genotype to serotype to phenotype' concept is supported in a number of autoimmune diseases, where both genotype and serotype are well established. The serotype is autoantigen-driven, with evidence of epitope spreading as the disease evolves from asymptomatic to pathogenic autoimmunity. In rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis, where the autoantigens are poorly characterised, the use of an array in animal models may produce a hint of what happens in human disease. A more complete picture will be obtained from animals transgenic for human MHC, immunised with known human autoantigens.

  • The case for measuring antibodies to specific citrullinated antigens.

    8 December 2017

    Anti-citrullinated protein/peptide antibodies (ACPA) are the principal autoantibody system associated with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), with diagnostic sensitivity of 70% and specificity of 95%. Current testing for ACPA uses the anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide assay (anti-CCP) which measures a generalized reactivity with citrulline-containing peptides, thus giving no insight into reactivity to specific RA antigens. Of these, the best characterized are, α-enolase, fibrinogen/fibrin, vimentin, Type 2 collagen and filaggrin, antibodies to each of which are found in approximately 30-60% of RA cases. Given reports of cross-reactivity between citrullinated antigens, we discuss whether or not measuring these specific antibodies could aid: clinical diagnosis, identification of clinical subsets and drug responses, or provide insight into pathogenic mechanisms or etiology of RA.

  • Immunization with Porphyromonas gingivalis enolase induces autoimmunity to mammalian α-enolase and arthritis in DR4-IE-transgenic mice.

    16 March 2018

    OBJECTIVE: To examine the hypothesis that the subset of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) characterized by antibodies to citrullinated α-enolase is mediated by Porphyromonas gingivalis enolase in the context of DR4 alleles. METHODS: Recombinant human α-enolase and P gingivalis enolase, either citrullinated or uncitrullinated, were used to immunize DR4-IE-transgenic mice and control mice (class II major histocompatibility complex-deficient [class II MHC(-/-)] and C57BL/6 wild-type mice). Arthritis was quantified by measurement of ankle swelling in the hind paws and histologic examination. Serum IgG reactivity with α-enolase and citrullinated α-enolase was assayed by Western blotting and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). Antibodies to peptide 1 of citrullinated α-enolase (CEP-1) and its arginine-bearing control peptide, REP-1, were also assessed by ELISA. RESULTS: Significant hind-ankle swelling (≥0.3 mm) occurred in DR4-IE-transgenic mice immunized with citrullinated human α-enolase (9 of 12 mice), uncitrullinated human α-enolase (9 of 12 mice), citrullinated P gingivalis enolase (6 of 6 mice), and uncitrullinated P gingivalis enolase (6 of 6 mice). Swelling peaked on day 24. None of the control groups developed arthritis. The arthritic joints showed synovial hyperplasia and erosions, but there was a paucity of leukocyte infiltration. Antibodies to human α-enolase, both citrullinated and unmodified, and to CEP-1 and REP-1 were detectable in all immunized mice except the class II MHC(-/-) control mice. CONCLUSION: This is the first animal model that links an immune response to P gingivalis enolase to an important subset of RA, defined by antibodies to citrullinated α-enolase in the context of DR4. The fact that arthritis and anti-CEP-1 antibodies were induced independent of citrullination of the immunizing antigen suggests that the unmodified form of α-enolase may be important in initiating the corresponding subset of human RA.

  • Periodontitis in RA-the citrullinated enolase connection.

    16 March 2018

    Autoimmunity in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is characterized by an antibody response to citrullinated proteins. Two of the risk factors for RA-HLA-DRB1 shared epitope alleles and smoking-are also associated with periodontitis, which is largely, but not exclusively, caused by Porphyromonas gingivalis infection. Furthermore, RA and periodontitis have a similar pathophysiology, characterized by destructive inflammation. The citrullination of proteins by P. gingivalis and the subsequent generation of autoantigens that drive autoimmunity in RA represents a possible causative link between these two diseases. Antibodies directed towards the immunodominant epitope of human citrullinated α-enolase cross-react with a conserved sequence on citrullinated P. gingivalis enolase. On the basis of this cross-reactivity, in this Perspectives article we explore the hypothesis of molecular mimicry in the etiology of RA, with citrullinated enolase as the specific antigen involved.

  • Specific interaction between genotype, smoking and autoimmunity to citrullinated alpha-enolase in the etiology of rheumatoid arthritis.

    16 March 2018

    Gene-environment associations are important in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) susceptibility, with an association existing between smoking, HLA- DRB1 'shared epitope' alleles, PTPN22 and antibodies to cyclic citrullinated peptides (CCP). Here, we test the hypothesis that a subset of the anti-CCP response, with specific autoimmunity to citrullinated alpha-enolase, accounts for an important portion of these associations. In 1,497 individuals from three RA cohorts, antibodies to the immunodominant citrullinated alpha-enolase CEP-1 epitope were detected in 43-63% of the anti-CCP-positive individuals, and this subset was preferentially linked to HLA-DRB1*04. In a case-control analysis of 1,000 affected individuals and 872 controls, the combined effect of shared epitope, PTPN22 and smoking showed the strongest association with the anti-CEP-1-positive subset (odds ratio (OR) of 37, compared to an OR of 2 for the corresponding anti-CEP-1-negative, anti-CCP-positive subset). We conclude that citrullinated alpha-enolase is a specific citrullinated autoantigen that links smoking to genetic risk factors in the development of RA.