Annexin A1 is a protein with multifunctional roles in innate and adaptive immunity mainly devoted to the regulation of inflammatory cells and the resolution of inflammation. Most of the data regarding Annexin A1 roles in immunity derive from cell studies and from mice models lacking Annexin A1 for genetic manipulation (Annexin A1-/-); only a few studies sought to define how Annexin A1 is involved in human diseases. High levels of anti-Annexin A1 autoantibodies have been reported in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), suggesting this protein is implicated in auto-immunity. Here, we reviewed the evidence available for an association of anti-Annexin A1 autoantibodies and SLE manifestations, in particular in those cases complicated by lupus nephritis. New studies show that serum levels of Annexin A1 are increased in patients presenting renal complications of SLE, but this increment does not correlate with circulating anti-Annexin A1 autoantibodies. On the other hand, high circulating Annexin A1 levels cannot explain per se the development of autoantibodies since post-translational modifications are necessary to make a protein immunogenic. A hypothesis is presented here and discussed regarding the possibility that Annexin A1 undergoes post-translational modifications as a part of neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs) that are produced in response to viral, bacterial, and/or inflammatory triggers. In particular, focus is on the process of citrullination of Annexin A1, which takes place within NETs and that mimics, to some extent, other autoimmune conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, that are characterized by the presence of anti-citrullinated peptides in circulation. The description of pathologic pathways leading to modification of Annexin A1 as a trigger of autoimmunity is a cognitive evolution, but requires more experimental data before becoming a solid concept for explaining autoimmunity in human beings.
Keywords: Annexin A1; Neutrophil Extracellular Traps; autoimmunity; lupus nephritis; systemic lupus erythematosus.