Objective: Antibodies directed against general and specific target-organ autoantigens are present in the sera of human patients and animal models with autoimmune disease. The relevance of these autoantibodies to the disease process remains ambiguous in most cases. In autoimmune exocrinopathy (Sjögren's syndrome), autoantibodies to the intracellular nuclear proteins SSA/Ro and SSB/La, as well as the cell surface muscarinic cholinergic receptor (M3) are observed. To evaluate the potential role of these factors in the loss of secretory function of exocrine tissues, a panel of monoclonal and polyclonal antibodies was developed for passive transfer into the NOD animal model.
Methods: Monoclonal antibodies to mouse SSB/La, rat M3 receptor, and a rabbit polyclonal antiparotid secretory protein antibody were obtained for this study. These antibody reagents were subsequently infused into NOD-scid mice. Saliva flow rates were subsequently monitored over a 72-hour period. Submandibular gland lysates were examined by Western blotting for alteration of the distribution of the water channel protein aquaporin (AQP).
Results: Evaluation of the secretory response indicated that only antibodies directed toward the extracellular domains of the M3 receptor were capable of mediating the exocrine dysfunction aspect of the clinical pathology of the autoimmune disease. In vitro stimulation with a muscarinic agonist of submandibular gland cells isolated from mice treated with anti-M3 antibody, but not saline or the isotype control, failed to translocate AQP to the plasma membrane.
Conclusion: These findings define a clear role for the humoral immune response and the targeting of the cell surface M3 signal transduction receptor as primary events in the development of clinical symptoms of autoimmune exocrinopathy. Furthermore, the anti-M3 receptor activity may negatively affect the secretory response through perturbation of normal signal transduction events, leading to translocation of the epithelial cell water channel.