Rationale: Diverse autoantibodies are present in most patients with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF). We hypothesized that specific autoantibodies may associate with IPF manifestations.
Objectives: To identify clinically relevant, antigen-specific immune responses in patients with IPF.
Methods: Autoantibodies were detected by immunoblots and ELISA. Intrapulmonary immune processes were evaluated by immunohistochemistry. Anti-heat shock protein 70 (HSP70) IgG was isolated from plasma by immunoaffinity. Flow cytometry was used for leukocyte functional studies.
Measurements and main results: HSP70 was identified as a potential IPF autoantigen in discovery assays. Anti-HSP70 IgG autoantibodies were detected by immunoblots in 3% of 60 control subjects versus 25% of a cross-sectional IPF cohort (n = 122) (P = 0.0004), one-half the patients with IPF who died (P = 0.008), and 70% of those with acute exacerbations (P = 0.0005). Anti-HSP70 autoantibodies in patients with IPF were significantly associated with HLA allele biases, greater subsequent FVC reductions (P = 0.0004), and lesser 1-year survival (40 ± 10% vs. 80 ± 5%; hazard ratio = 4.2; 95% confidence interval, 2.0-8.6; P < 0.0001). HSP70 protein, antigen-antibody complexes, and complement were prevalent in IPF lungs. HSP70 protein was an autoantigen for IPF CD4 T cells, inducing lymphocyte proliferation (P = 0.004) and IL-4 production (P = 0.01). IPF anti-HSP70 autoantibodies activated monocytes (P = 0.009) and increased monocyte IL-8 production (P = 0.049). ELISA confirmed the association between anti-HSP70 autoreactivity and IPF outcome. Anti-HSP70 autoantibodies were also found in patients with other interstitial lung diseases but were not associated with their clinical progression.
Conclusions: Patients with IPF with anti-HSP70 autoantibodies have more near-term lung function deterioration and mortality. These findings suggest antigen-specific immunoassays could provide useful clinical information in individual patients with IPF and may have implications for understanding IPF progression.