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Mol Immunol. 2004 Nov;41(12):1123-33.

Altered B lymphocyte function induces systemic autoimmunity in systemic sclerosis.

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  • 1Department of Dermatology, Kanazawa University Graduate School of Medical Science, 13-1 Takaramachi, Kanazawa, Ishikawa 920-8641, Japan.


Systemic sclerosis (SSc) is a connective tissue disease characterized by excessive extracellular matrix deposition in the skin and visceral organs. SSc is associated with immune activation characterized by autoantibody production, lymphocyte activation, and release of various cytokines. The presence of autoantibodies is a central feature of immune activation in SSc. Although autoantibodies are thought to be closely linked to the pathogenesis of SSc, the pathogenic relationship between systemic autoimmunity and the clinical manifestations of SSc, including skin fibrosis, remains unknown. Recent studies have revealed that B cells play a critical role in systemic autoimmunity and disease expression through various functions, including cytokine production in addition to autoantibody production. The B cell signaling thresholds are regulated by response regulators that augment or diminish B cell signals during responses to self and foreign antigens. Abnormal regulation of the response regulator function and expression may result in autoantibody production. Among these response regulators, CD19, which is a critical cell-surface signal transduction molecule of B cells, is the most potent positive regulator. Transgenic mice that overexpress CD19 by approximately 3-fold lose tolerance and generate autoantibodies spontaneously. B cells from SSc patients exhibit a 20%-increase in CD19 expression that induces SSc-specific autoantibody production in transgenic mice. Furthermore, SSc patients have intrinsic B cell abnormalities characterized by expanded naive B cells, activated but diminished memory B cells, and chronic hyper-reactivity of memory B cells, possibly due to CD19 overexpression. Similarly, B cells from a tight-skin mouse, a model of SSc, show augmented CD19 signaling and chronic hyper-reactivity. Remarkably, CD19 loss results in inhibition of chronic B cell hyper-reactivity and elimination of autoantibody production, which is associated with improvement in skin fibrosis and a parallel decrease in IL-6 production by B cells. Thus, chronic B cell activation resulting from augmented CD19 signaling leads to skin fibrosis possibly through IL-6 overproduction, as well as autoantibody production, in tight-skin mice and SSc patients.

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