Objective: In addition to inducing a self-limited myopathy, statin use is associated with an immune-mediated necrotizing myopathy (IMNM), with autoantibodies that recognize ∼200-kd and ∼100-kd autoantigens. The purpose of this study was to identify these molecules to help clarify the disease mechanism and facilitate diagnosis.
Methods: The effect of statin treatment on autoantigen expression was addressed by immunoprecipitation using sera from patients. The identity of the ∼100-kd autoantigen was confirmed by immunoprecipitation of in vitro-translated 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl-coenzyme A reductase (HMGCR) protein. HMGCR expression in muscle was analyzed by immunofluorescence. A cohort of myopathy patients was screened for anti-HMGCR autoantibodies by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay and genotyped for the rs4149056 C allele, a predictor of self-limited statin myopathy.
Results: Statin exposure induced expression of the ∼200-kd/∼100-kd autoantigens in cultured cells. HMGCR was identified as the ∼100-kd autoantigen. Competition experiments demonstrated no distinct autoantibodies recognizing the ∼200-kd protein. In muscle biopsy tissues from anti-HMGCR-positive patients, HMGCR expression was up-regulated in cells expressing neural cell adhesion molecule, a marker of muscle regeneration. Anti-HMGCR autoantibodies were found in 45 of 750 patients presenting to the Johns Hopkins Myositis Center (6%). Among patients ages 50 years and older, 92.3% had taken statins. The prevalence of the rs4149056 C allele was not increased in patients with anti-HMGCR.
Conclusion: Statins up-regulate the expression of HMGCR, the major target of autoantibodies in statin-associated IMNM. Regenerating muscle cells express high levels of HMGCR, which may sustain the immune response even after statins are discontinued. These studies demonstrate a mechanistic link between an environmental trigger and the development of sustained autoimmunity. Detection of anti-HMGCR autoantibodies may facilitate diagnosis and direct therapy.
Copyright © 2011 by the American College of Rheumatology.