Antitreponemal antibodies leading to autoantibody production and protection from atherosclerosis in Kitavans from Papua New Guinea

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2009 Sep;1173:675-82. doi: 10.1111/j.1749-6632.2009.04671.x.


The objective of our study was to determine the prevalence of anti-infectious agent antibodies and autoantibodies in a unique non-Westernized population from Kitava, Papua New Guinea (PNG), compared to Western populations. We matched 120 serum samples from Kitavans with 437 samples from four healthy control groups. Sera were tested for the presence of anti-infectious agent antibodies (treponema, toxoplsmosis, Epstein-Barr virus, cytomegalovirus, rubella) and autoantiobodies [anti-double-stranded (ds)DNA, anti-chromatin, anti-ribonucleoprotein (RNP), anti-SSB, anti-SSA, anti-Scl-70, anti-Smith, anti-centromer, anti-SmRNP, anti-Jo-1, and anti-ribosomal-P] using the Bio-Rad BioPlex 2200. Antitreponemal antibodies were detected in 87% of PNG sera versus 0-6% of controls (P < 0.0001). Anti-dsDNA antibodies were detected in 31% of PNG samples, which was significantly higher than in three of the control groups (<10%). The outstanding high rate of antitreponemal antibodies detected in Kitavans possibly represents prior yaws disease. A low prevalence of cardiovascular disease was previously documented in Kitavans and has been attributed, in addition to their diet, to the high prevalence of natural cardioprotective autoantibodies (the IgM-antiphosphorylcholine antibodies) in this population. Treponemal infection has been shown to induce the appearance of antiphosphorylcholine antibodies. These protective autoantibodies may cross-react with the pathogenic anti-dsDNA antibodies. Thus, it is suggested that infection with treponema is associated with the presence of protective as well as pathogenic autoantibodies.

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Antinuclear / blood
  • Antibodies, Bacterial / blood*
  • Atherosclerosis / blood
  • Atherosclerosis / epidemiology
  • Atherosclerosis / immunology*
  • Autoantibodies / blood*
  • Bacterial Infections / immunology
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Cytomegalovirus / immunology
  • Herpesvirus 4, Human / immunology
  • Immunoassay / methods
  • Papua New Guinea / epidemiology
  • Rubella virus / immunology
  • Seroepidemiologic Studies
  • Toxoplasma / immunology
  • Toxoplasmosis / immunology
  • Treponema / immunology*
  • Virus Diseases / immunology


  • Antibodies, Antinuclear
  • Antibodies, Bacterial
  • Autoantibodies