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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2001 Jul 17;98(15):8703-8. Epub 2001 Jul 3.

Identification of an autoimmune serum containing antibodies against the Barr body.

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Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, University of Florida College of Medicine, Gainesville, FL 32610, USA.


Transcriptional inactivation of one X chromosome in mammalian female somatic cells leads to condensation of the inactive X chromosome into the heterochromatic sex chromatin, or Barr body. Little is known about the molecular composition and structure of the Barr body or the mechanisms leading to its formation in female nuclei. Because human sera from patients with autoimmune diseases often contain antibodies against a variety of cellular components, we reasoned that some autoimmune sera may contain antibodies against proteins associated with the Barr body. Therefore, we screened autoimmune sera by immunofluorescence of human fibroblasts and identified one serum that immunostained a distinct nuclear structure with a size and nuclear localization consistent with the Barr body. The number of these structures was consistent with the number of Barr bodies expected in diploid female fibroblasts containing two to five X chromosomes. Immunostaining with the serum followed by fluorescence in situ hybridization with a probe against XIST RNA demonstrated that the major fluorescent signal from the autoantibody colocalized with XIST RNA. Further analysis of the serum showed that it stains human metaphase chromosomes and a nuclear structure consistent with the inactive X in female mouse fibroblasts. However, it does not exhibit localization to a Barr body-like structure in female mouse embryonic stem cells or in cells from female mouse E7.5 embryos. The lack of staining of the inactive X in cells from female E7.5 embryos suggests the antigen(s) may be involved in X inactivation at a stage subsequent to initiation of X inactivation. This demonstration of an autoantibody recognizing an antigen(s) associated with the Barr body presents a strategy for identifying molecular components of the Barr body and examining the molecular basis of X inactivation.

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