Dissociation of systemic and mucosal autoimmunity in cystic fibrosis

J Cyst Fibros. 2020 Mar;19(2):196-202. doi: 10.1016/j.jcf.2019.06.006. Epub 2019 Jun 28.


Background: Pseudomonas aeruginosa accounts for ~80% of cystic fibrosis (CF) airway infection. It shows a remarkable correlation with presence of autoantibody to bactericidal/permeability-increasing protein (BPI), which is not understood. In this study, we sought to better understand the characteristics of systemic and mucosal autoimmunity and their relation to humoral immunity to P. aeruginosa.

Methods: Antibody titers and isotypes to BPI and P. aeruginosa were characterized in sera and bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) of adult and pediatric CF patients (n = 131), by ELISA and/or immunoblot.

Results: Serum BPI autoantibodies were common (~43%) in adult while rare (≪5%) in pediatric (≤18 yrs) CF patients. Serum BPI IgG autoantibodies were of high avidity and strongly correlated with anti-P. aeruginosa IgG responses. A parallel relationship was observed with IgA, but not IgG, responses in adult and pediatric CF patient in the BAL. Thus, BAL IgA anti-BPI antibodies were independent of age and correlated with the presence of BPI cleavage in BAL.

Conclusions: IgG and IgA autoreactivity to BPI in CF patients was demonstrated in serum and BAL, respectively, and correlated with the isotype of the antibody response to P. aeruginosa. The co-occurrence of anti-BPI and anti-P. aeruginosa IgA in the BAL, but not serum, of pediatric CF patients suggests that BPI tolerance is broken in the P. aeruginosa-infected airway and that serologic IgG autoantibodies are later induced, potentially through a separate pathway. The relationship between P. aeruginosa, BPI cleavage, and IgA autoantibodies in the BAL suggests a role for cryptic epitope generation in the breaking of tolerance.

Keywords: Autoimmunity; Bactericidal/permeability-increasing protein (BPI); Cystic fibrosis; Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't