Objectives: Granulomatosis with polyangiitis (GPA) is a relapsing small-vessel vasculitis characterized by circulating ANCA against PR3. The mechanisms that trigger PR3-ANCA production are unknown. The aim of this study was to determine whether endogenous factors [B cell activating factor (BAFF) and IL-21] and exogenous factors [oligodeoxynucleotides containing CpG motifs (CpG-ODN)] synergize in stimulating PR3-ANCA production in GPA patients.
Methods: Peripheral blood mononuclear cells from GPA patients and healthy controls (HCs) were cultured in the presence of BAFF and IL-21, with or without CpG-ODN, for 12 days. PR3-ANCA production in culture supernatants was quantified by Phadia EliA. Phenotypic characterization and the influence of CpG-ODN treatment on IL-21 receptor (IL-21R), transmembrane activator and calcium-modulator and cyclophilin ligand interactor (TACI) and BAFF receptor (BAFF-R) expression on B cells was analysed by flow cytometry.
Results: Stimulation with BAFF and IL-21 significantly increased ANCA production in patient samples, which could be augmented further by addition of CpG-ODN. Stimulation with CpG-ODN increased the percentage of IL-21R(+) and TACI(+) B cells but did not affect BAFF-R expression. GPA patients had an increased percentage of circulating IL-21R(+) and a decreased percentage of TACI(+) circulating memory B cells when compared with HCs. Additionally, patients had decreased expression of BAFF-R on B cells, which was inversely correlated with BAFF concentrations in plasma.
Conclusion: Our data demonstrate that endogenous and exogenous factors can synergize to promote PR3-ANCA production. Mechanistically, CpG-ODN up-regulated IL-21R and TACI expression on B cells, possibly sensitizing these cells for IL-21- and BAFF-mediated signals. Agents inhibiting Toll-like receptor 9, BAFF and IL-21 signalling pathways may serve as potential therapeutics for intervention in GPA patients.
Keywords: ANCA; B cells; BAFF; BAFF-R; GPA; IL-21; IL-21R; TACI; TLR9; vasculitis.
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