Objective Anti-citrullinated protein antibodies (ACPAs) are characteristic of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). However, their presence years before the onset of clinical RA is perplexing. Although multiple putative citrullinated antigens have been identified, no studies have demonstrated the specific capacity of these antigens to initiate inflammatory arthritis. This study was undertaken to recapitulate the transition from preclinical to clinical RA and to demonstrate the capacity of local citrullination to facilitate this transition. Methods We performed proteomic analysis of activated human neutrophils to identify citrullinated proteins, including those targeted as part of the RA immune response. Using enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, we compared RA and osteoarthritis synovial fluid for levels of citrullinated histone H2B and its immune complex. Using macrophage activation assays, we assessed the effect of histone citrullination on immunostimulatory capacity and evaluated the stimulatory capacity of native and citrullinated H2B immune complexes. Finally, we assessed the potential for anti-citrullinated H2B antibodies to mediate arthritis in vivo. Results We identified robust targeting of neutrophil-derived citrullinated histones by the ACPA immune response. More than 90% of the RA patients had anti-citrullinated H2B antibodies. Histone citrullination increased innate immunostimulatory capacity, and immune complexes containing citrullinated histones activated macrophage cytokine production and propagated neutrophil activation. Finally, we demonstrated that immunization with H2B was arthritogenic, but only in the setting of underlying articular inflammation. Conclusion Our findings indicate that citrullinated histones, specifically citrullinated H2B, are an antigenic target of the ACPA immune response. Furthermore, local generation of citrullinated antigen during low-grade articular inflammation provides a mechanistic model for the conversion from preclinical autoimmunity to inflammatory arthritis.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Immunology and Allergy