Purpose: The goal of this study was to determine whether elevated serum levels of antibodies to ribosomal P proteins (anti-P antibodies) are associated with neuropsychiatric manifestations in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Additional experiments examined characteristics of these antibodies that might be associated with pathogenicity.
Patients and methods: A large number of serum samples were collected from patients with SLE, control subjects with other rheumatic diseases, and normal individuals. At the time serum samples were obtained, patients with SLE were categorized according to the presence of psychosis, depression, and other manifestations of central nervous system (CNS) involvement. Serum anti-P antibody activity was quantitated by an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay utilizing a synthetic peptide corresponding to the major P protein epitope.
Results: In a group of 79 normal individuals, mean (+/- SE) IgG anti-P activity was 0.01 +/- 0.003 and no individuals had values greater than 3 SD above the mean. Similar results were obtained measuring IgM anti-P activity. Normal levels were found in all sera from 21 patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Of 119 patients demonstrating various patterns of antinuclear and anticytoplasmic antibody activity, elevated anti-P levels were found only in patients with SLE. Overall, 19% of 269 patients with SLE demonstrated elevated levels of IgG or IgM anti-P antibodies, including 14% of 187 patients without and 29% of 82 patients with neuropsychiatric manifestations. The frequency of positive test results varied greatly depending on the nature of the CNS involvement. The frequency in patients with severe depression (n = 8) and psychosis (n = 29) was 88% and 45%, respectively, compared with only 9% in patients with nonpsychiatric neurologic disease (n = 45). For the entire SLE group, the odds ratio for the association of anti-P antibodies and severe psychiatric manifestations was 7.63 with a 95% confidence interval of 3.61 to 16.14. In a review of 187 patients with SLE originally classified as not having severe psychiatric disease, seven of 10 patients being treated with antidepressant medications had elevated levels of anti-P antibodies. In serial studies, the serum level of anti-P antibodies appeared to correlate with the activity of psychiatric disease and did not correlate with the activity of other manifestations of SLE. Anti-P antibodies in nearly all patients were IgG and directed primarily to the C-terminal 11 amino acids of the P protein. No difference in these characteristics was observed when patients with and without psychiatric manifestations were compared. Paired serum and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) samples were also obtained from eight patients with active neuropsychiatric disease. Even when expressed as a fraction of the total IgG present, anti-P activity was markedly lower in CSF than in serum.
Conclusions: Elevated levels of autoantibodies to the C-terminal region of ribosomal P proteins appear to be a specific marker for SLE, and are associated with both severe depression and psychosis in this disease. This assay is easily reproducible and may help distinguish SLE-induced psychiatric disease from that caused by other processes.