Objective: Granulomatosis with polyangiitis (GPA) is a rare chronic autoimmune disease that may be triggered by upper airway infection. ANCAs specific for PR3 that is expressed by activated neutrophils and macrophages are associated with GPA. Our aim was to investigate regional immune mechanisms that might induce or support the autoimmune response in GPA.
Methods: Biopsy samples from 77 patients including 8 with GPA were studied by immunohistochemistry. B-cell homing subsets in blood samples from 16 patients with GPA and 11 healthy controls were studied by FACS. The distribution of B-cell clones was searched in paired biopsies and blood samples from one patient by analysing immunoglobulin heavy chain gene (IGH) junctional sequences.
Results: Activated B cells were located alongside PR3-expressing cells and B-cell survival factors BAFF and APRIL in mucosa from patients with GPA. We detected APRIL production by the granulomas and giant cells. B cells were proliferating in all cases and persistent for 5 years in biopsies obtained from one patient. However, there was no evidence of B-cell clones from the mucosal biopsies circulating in peripheral blood in GPA or any numerical or proportional change in B-cell subsets expressing markers of regional homing in blood in GPA.
Conclusions: Our study illustrates chronically activated B cells alongside autoantigens and B-cell survival factors in the mucosa in GPA.