IgG autoantibodies against deposited C3 inhibit macrophage-mediated apoptotic cell engulfment in systemic autoimmunity

J Immunol. 2011 Sep 1;187(5):2101-11. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.1003468. Epub 2011 Aug 3.


Defective clearance of apoptotic cells has been shown in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and is postulated to enhance autoimmune responses by increasing access to intracellular autoantigens. Until now, research has emphasized inherited rather than acquired impairment of apoptotic cell engulfment in the pathogenesis of SLE. In this study, we confirm previous results that efficient removal of apoptotic cells (efferocytosis) is bolstered in the presence of wild-type mouse serum, through the C3 deposition on the apoptotic cell surface. In contrast, sera from three mouse models of SLE, Mer(KD), MRL(lpr), and New Zealand Black/WF1 did not support and in fact actively inhibited apoptotic cell uptake. IgG autoantibodies were responsible for the inhibition, through the blockade of C3 recognition by macrophages. Consistent with this, IgG removal reversed the inhibitory activity within autoimmune serum, and purified autoimmune IgG blocked both the detection of C3 on apoptotic cells and C3-dependent efferocytosis. Sera from SLE patients demonstrated elevated anti-C3b IgG that blocked detection of C3 on apoptotic cells, activity that was not found in healthy controls or patients with rheumatoid arthritis, nor in mice prior to the onset of autoimmunity. We propose that the suppression of apoptotic cell disposal by Abs against deposited C3 may contribute to increasing severity and/or exacerbations in SLE.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis*
  • Autoantibodies / immunology*
  • Autoantigens / immunology
  • Complement C3 / immunology*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin G / immunology*
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / immunology*
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / pathology
  • Macrophages / immunology*
  • Mice
  • Phagocytosis / immunology*


  • Autoantibodies
  • Autoantigens
  • Complement C3
  • Immunoglobulin G