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J Clin Invest. Dec 1995; 96(6): 2569–2577.
PMCID: PMC185960

Autoantibodies against heat shock protein 60 mediate endothelial cytotoxicity.


Stress or heat shock proteins (hsp) are a family of approximately two dozen proteins with a high degree of amino acid sequence homology between different species, ranging from prokaryotes to humans, and are representative of a generalized response to environmental and metabolic stressors. Our previous studies showed increased expression of human hsp60 on endothelial cells of arterial intima with atherosclerotic lesions, and elevated levels of serum antibodies (Ab) against hsp65/60 in subjects with carotid atherosclerosis. To investigate the possible involvement of anti-hsp65/60 Ab in endothelial injury, specific hsp-Ab were isolated from human high titer sera by affinity chromatography and probed on heat-shock human umbilical vein endothelial cells. Purified human anti-hsp65/60 Ab reacted specifically with mycobacterial hsp65, human hsp60, and a 60-kD protein band of heat-shocked endothelial cells. High levels of hsp60 mRNA expression in endothelial cells were found between 4 and 12 h after 30 min treatment at 42 degrees C. In immunofluorescence tests, positive staining of heat-stressed endothelial cells was observed not only in the cytoplasm but also on the cell surface. Furthermore, only heat-stressed, but not untreated, Cr-labeled endothelial cells were lysed by anti-hsp65/60 Ab in the presence of complement (complement-mediated cytotoxicity) or peripheral blood mononuclear cells (antibody-dependent cellular cytotoxicity). Control Abs, including human anti-hsp65/60 low titer antiserum, human Ig fraction deprived of hsp65/60 Ab, and mAbs to Factor VIII, alpha-actin, hsp70, and CD3 showed no cytotoxic effect. In conclusion, human serum anti-hsp65 antibodies act as autoantibodies reacting with hsp60 on stressed endothelial cells and are able to mediate endothelial cytotoxicity. Thus, a humoral immune reaction to hsp60 may play an important role in the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis.

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