Background and aim of the work: The causes of sarcoidosis are unknown. Propionibacterium acnes has been isolated from sarcoid lesions, and many genomes of P. acnes or P. granulosum have been detected in all biopsy samples tested from Japanese patients with sarcoidosis. We searched for protein antigens from propionibacteria that caused immune responses in patients with sarcoidosis but not in subjects without sarcoidosis.
Methods: A lambda gt11 genomic DNA expression library of P. acnes was screened with sera from patients with sarcoidosis. Antibodies to a recombinant protein from the insert recovered by the screening were measured in serum and bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) fluid from patients with or without sarcoidosis by an immunofluorescence-based method. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells from patients with and without sarcoidosis were used to examine the lymphoproliferative response to the protein.
Results: Of 180,000 plaques screened, two clones coded for an identical recombinant protein, termed RP35, were recognized by sera. RP35 was the C-terminal region of P. acnes trigger factor. RP35 caused sarcoidosis specific proliferation of the mononuclear cells from 9 (18%) of the 50 patients with sarcoidosis; in a similar way, purified protein derived from Mycobacterium tuberculosis evoked specific responses in 8 (38%) of 21 patients with tuberculosis. Serum levels of IgG and IgA antibodies to RP35 were high in patients with sarcoidosis and other lung diseases. In BAL fluid levels IgG or IgA antibodies were high in 7 (18%) and 15 (39%), respectively, of 38 patients with sarcoidosis, and in 2 (3%) and 2 (3%), respectively, of 63 patients with other lung diseases.
Conclusions: The RP35 protein from P. acnes causes a cellular immune response in some patients with sarcoidosis but not in subjects without sarcoidosis.