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J Immunol. 2000 Dec 1;165(11):6635-43.

Quantitative genetic variation in CD19 expression correlates with autoimmunity.

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  • 1Department of Dermatology, Kanazawa University School of Medicine, Kanazawa, Japan.


Signaling thresholds influence the balance between humoral immunity and autoimmunity. Cell surface CD19 regulates intrinsic and Ag receptor-induced B lymphocyte signaling thresholds, and transgenic mice that overexpress CD19 by 3-fold generate spontaneous autoantibodies in a genetic background not associated with autoimmunity. To quantify the extent that genetically determined differences in expression of a single cell surface molecule can influence autoantibody production, we have assessed autoimmunity in a C57BL/6-transgenic mouse line with subtle 15-29% increases in CD19 cell surface expression (CD19 transgenic). Antinuclear Abs, especially anti-spindle pole Abs, rheumatoid factor, and autoantibodies for ssDNA, dsDNA, and histone were produced in these transgenic mice, but not littermate controls. This demonstrates that small changes in CD19 expression can induce autoantibody production. Remarkably, similar changes in CD19 expression were found on B cells from patients with systemic sclerosis, a multisystem disorder of connective tissue with autoantibody production. CD19 density on blood B cells from systemic sclerosis patients was significantly ( approximately 20%) higher compared with normal individuals, whereas CD20, CD22, and CD40 expression were normal. These results suggest that modest changes in the expression or function of regulatory molecules such as CD19 may shift the balance between tolerance and immunity to autoimmunity. Thereby autoimmune disease may result from a collection of subtle multigenic alterations that could include incremental density changes in cell surface signaling molecules.

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