Introduction: Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory disease, which results in destruction of the joint. The presence of immune complexes (IC) in serum and synovial fluid of RA patients might contribute to this articular damage through different mechanisms, such as complement activation. Therefore, identification of the antigens from these IC is important to gain more insight into the pathogenesis of RA. Since RA patients have antibodies against citrullinated proteins (ACPA) in their serum and synovial fluid (SF) and since elevated levels of citrullinated proteins are detected in the joints of RA patients, citrullinated antigens are possibly present in IC from RA patients.
Methods: IC from serum of healthy persons, serum of RA patients and IC from synovial fluid of RA patients and Spondyloarthropathy (SpA) patients were isolated by immunoprecipitation. Identification of the antigens was performed by SDS-PAGE, mass spectrometry and immunodetection. The presence of citrullinated proteins was evaluated by anti-modified citrulline (AMC) staining.
Results: Circulating IC in the serum of RA patients and healthy controls contain fibrinogenβ and fibronectin, both in a non-citrullinated form. Additionally, in IC isolated from RA SF, fibrinogenγ and vimentin were identified as well. More importantly, vimentin and a minor portion of fibrinogenβ were found to be citrullinated in the isolated complexes. Moreover these citrullinated antigens were only found in ACPA+ patients. No citrullinated antigens were found in IC from SF of SpA patients.
Conclusions: Citrullinated fibrinogenβ and citrullinated vimentin were found in IC from SF of ACPA+ RA patients, while no citrullinated antigens were found in IC from SF of ACPA- RA patients or SpA patients or in IC from serum of RA patients or healthy volunteers. The identification of citrullinated vimentin as a prominent citrullinated antigen in IC from SF of ACPA+ RA patients strengthens the hypothesis that citrullinated vimentin plays an important role in the pathogenesis of RA.