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J Immunol. 2002 Jul 15;169(2):1068-76.

Characterization of autoreactive T cells to the autoantigens heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein A2 (RA33) and filaggrin in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.

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Division of Rheumatology, Department of Internal Medicine III, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria.


The role of autoimmune reactions in the pathogenesis of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is poorly understood. To address this issue we have investigated the spontaneous T cell response to two well-characterized humoral autoantigens in RA patients and controls: 1) the heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoprotein A2, i.e., the RA33 Ag (A2/RA33), and 2) filaggrin in unmodified and citrullinated forms. In stimulation assays A2/RA33 induced proliferative responses in PBMC of almost 60% of the RA patients but in only 20% of the controls (patients with osteoarthritis or psoriatic arthritis and healthy individuals), with substantially stronger responses in RA patients (p < 0.00002). Furthermore, synovial T cells of seven RA patients investigated were also clearly responsive. In contrast, responses to filaggrin were rarely observed and did not differ between RA patients and controls. Analysis of A2/RA33-induced cytokine secretion revealed high IFN-gamma and low IL-4 production in both RA and control PBMC, whereas IL-2 production was mainly observed in RA PBMC (p < 0.03). Moreover, A2/RA33-specific T cell clones from RA patients showed a strong Th1 phenotype and secreted higher amounts of IFN-gamma than Th1 clones from controls (p < 0.04). Inhibition experiments performed with mAbs against MHC class II molecules showed A2/RA33-induced T cell responses to be largely HLA-DR restricted. Finally, immunohistochemical analyses revealed pronounced overexpression of A2/RA33 in synovial tissue of RA patients. Taken together, the presence of autoreactive Th1-like cells in RA patients in conjunction with synovial overexpression of A2/RA33 may indicate potential involvement of this autoantigen in the pathogenesis of RA.

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