Triggers for anti-chromatin autoantibody production in SLE

Lupus. 2002;11(12):856-64. doi: 10.1191/0961203302lu307rr.


The formation of autoantibodies against chromatin is the main feature of systemic lupus erythematosis (SLE), an autoimmune disease, which is T-cell dependent and autoantigen-driven. Historically, antibodies against dsDNA, one of the components of chromatin, are considered as a hallmark of SLE. However, dsDNA is poorly immunogenic. Nucleosome-specific T helper cells have been identified. These T cells propagate not only nucleosome-specific antibodies, but also anti-dsDNA antibodies. Nucleosomes are formed during apoptosis by cleavage of chromatin, and evidence of disturbed apoptosis has been found especially in certain murine models of lupus. In addition to an increased rate of apoptosis, autoimmunity against chromatin might also result from an impaired phagocytosis of apoptotic material, for which strong evidence has been provided by studies in certain knock-out mice (C1q, SAP, Dnase I). The induction of an immune response to nucleosomes could be enhanced by modifications of histones or DNA during apoptosis, altered presentation by antigen presenting cells or a viral infection. The release of nucleosomes and the formation of anti-chromatin autoantibodies result in formation of complexes, which bind to the glomerular basement membrane via heparan sulfate. This deposition incites glomerulonephritis, the most serious manifestation of SLE.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Autoantibodies / immunology*
  • Chromatin / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / immunology*


  • Autoantibodies
  • Chromatin