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Sci Immunol. 2017 Jun 9;2(12). pii: eaal3062. doi: 10.1126/sciimmunol.aal3062.

Citrullination of NF-κB p65 promotes its nuclear localization and TLR-induced expression of IL-1β and TNFα.

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Division of Rheumatology, Immunology, and Allergy, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, MA 02115, USA.
Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA 02115, USA.
Department of Chemistry, Boston College, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467, USA.
Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Pharmacology, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, MA 01605, USA.
Department of Medicine, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI 53705, USA.
Department of Medicine, University of Wisconsin-Madison and William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans Hospital, Madison, WI 53705, USA.
Division of Rheumatology, Immunology, and Allergy, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


Many citrullinated proteins are known autoantigens in rheumatoid arthritis, a disease mediated by inflammatory cytokines, such as tumor necrosis factor-α (TNFα). Citrullinated proteins are generated by converting peptidylarginine to peptidylcitrulline, a process catalyzed by the peptidylarginine deiminases (PADs), including PAD1 to PAD4 and PAD6. Several major risk factors for rheumatoid arthritis are associated with heightened citrullination. However, the physiological role of citrullination in immune cells is poorly understood. We report that suppression of PAD activity attenuates Toll-like receptor-induced expression of interleukin-1β (IL-1β) and TNFα by neutrophils in vivo and in vitro but not their global transcription activity. Mechanistically, PAD4 directly citrullinates nuclear factor κB (NF-κB) p65 and enhances the interaction of p65 with importin α3, which brings p65 into the nucleus. The citrullination-enhanced interaction of p65 with importin α3 and its nuclear translocation and transcriptional activity can be attributed to citrullination of four arginine residues located in the Rel homology domain of p65. Furthermore, a rheumatoid arthritis-prone variant of PAD4, carrying three missense mutations, is more efficient in interacting with p65 and enhancing NF-κB activity. Together, these data not only demonstrate a critical role of citrullination in an NF-κB-dependent expression of IL-1β and TNFα but also provide a molecular mechanism by which heightened citrullination propagates inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis. Accordingly, attenuating p65-mediated production of IL-1β and TNFα by blocking the citrullination of p65 has great therapeutic potential in rheumatoid arthritis.

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