Hypogalactosylation of immunoglobulin G in rheumatoid arthritis: relationship to HLA-DRB1 shared epitope, anticitrullinated protein antibodies, rheumatoid factor, and correlation with inflammatory activity

Arthritis Res Ther. 2018 Mar 14;20(1):44. doi: 10.1186/s13075-018-1540-0.


Background: Galactosylation of immunoglobulin G (IgG) is reduced in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and assumed to correlate with inflammation and altered humoral immunity. IgG hypogalactosylation also increases with age. To investigate dependencies in more detail, we compared IgG hypogalactosylation between patients with RA, patients with axial spondyloarthritis (axSpA), and healthy control subjects (HC), and we studied it in RA on the background of HLA-DRB1 shared epitope (SE), anticitrullinated protein antibodies (ACPA), and/or rheumatoid factor (RF) status.

Methods: Patients with RA (n = 178), patients with axSpA (n = 126), and HC (n = 119) were characterized clinically, and serum IgG galactosylation was determined by capillary electrophoresis. Markers of disease activity, genetic susceptibility, and serologic response included C-reactive protein (CRP), erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), DAS28, SE, HLA-B27, ACPA, and RF. Expression of glycosylation enzymes, including beta 1-4 galactosyltransferase (B4GALT3) activity, were estimated from transcriptome data for B-cell development (GSE19599) and differentiation to plasma cells (GSE12366).

Results: IgG hypogalactosylation was restricted to RA and associated with increasing CRP levels (p < 0.0001). In axSpA, IgG hypogalactosylation was comparable to HC and only marginally increased upon elevated CRP. Restriction to RA was maintained after correction for CRP and age. Treatment with sulfasalazine resulted in significantly reduced IgG hypogalactosylation (p = 0.003) even after adjusting for age, sex, and CRP (p = 0.009). SE-negative/ACPA-negative RA exhibited significantly less IgG hypogalactosylation than all other strata (vs SE-negative/ACPA-positive, p = 0.009; vs SE-positive/ACPA-negative, p = 0.04; vs SE-positive/ACPA-positive, p < 0.02); however, this indicated a trend only after Bonferroni correction for multiple testing. In SE-positive/ACPA-negative RA IgG hypogalactosylation was comparable to ACPA-positive subsets. The relationship between IgG hypogalactosylation and disease activity was significantly different between strata defined by SE (CRP, p = 0.0003, pBonferroni = 0.0036) and RF (CRP, p < 0.0001, pBonferroni < 0.0012), whereas ACPA strata revealed only a nonsignificant trend (p = 0.15). Gene expression data indicated that the key enzyme for galactosylation of immunoglobulins, B4GALT3, is expressed at lower levels in B cells than in plasma cells.

Conclusions: Increased IgG hypogalactosylation in RA but not in axSpA points to humoral immune response as a precondition. Reduced B4GALT3 expression in B cells compared with plasma cells supports relatedness to early B-cell triggering. The differential influence of RA treatment on IgG hypogalactosylation renders it a potential diagnostic target for further studies.

Keywords: Anticitrullinated protein antibodies (ACPA); Axial spondyloarthritis (axSpA); C-reactive protein (CRP); Disease Activity Score in 28 joints (DAS28); HLA-DRB1 shared epitope (HLA-DRB1 SE); IgG hypogalactosylation; Rheumatoid arthritis (RA); Rheumatoid factor (RF).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / blood*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / diagnosis
  • Autoantibodies / blood*
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Citrullination / physiology
  • Epitopes / blood*
  • Female
  • Galactose / blood
  • HLA-DRB1 Chains / blood*
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin G / blood*
  • Inflammation Mediators / blood
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Rheumatoid Factor / blood*


  • Autoantibodies
  • Biomarkers
  • Epitopes
  • HLA-DRB1 Chains
  • Immunoglobulin G
  • Inflammation Mediators
  • Rheumatoid Factor
  • Galactose