Citrullination of autoantigens: upstream of TNFα in the pathogenesis of rheumatoid arthritis

FEBS Lett. 2011 Dec 1;585(23):3681-8. doi: 10.1016/j.febslet.2011.06.006. Epub 2011 Jun 23.


Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease characterised by synovial inflammation and destruction of joints. Over 20 years ago, tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNFα) was identified as a key player in a cytokine network, whose multifunctional effects could account for both the inflammation and destruction in RA. The remarkable efficacy of TNF inhibitors in the treatment of RA has resulted in extensive research addressing the regulation of TNFα production responsible for this excessive production. The discovery of autoimmunity to citrullinated protein/peptide antigens (ACPA) has led the concept that ACPA may be the essential link between disease susceptibility factors and the production of TNFα, which ultimately accounts for the disease phenotype. In this review we will consider (1) the mechanisms of citrullination, both physiological and pathological, (2) how known genetic and environmental factors could drive this peculiar form of autoimmunity and (3) how the immune response could lead to excessive production of TNFα by the synovial cells and ultimately to the disease phenotype (Fig. 1).

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / etiology*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / immunology*
  • Autoantibodies / immunology
  • Autoantigens / immunology*
  • Citrulline / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Models, Immunological
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha / metabolism*


  • Autoantibodies
  • Autoantigens
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • Citrulline