Autophagy promotes citrullination of VIM (vimentin) and its interaction with major histocompatibility complex class II in synovial fibroblasts

Autophagy. 2020 May;16(5):946-955. doi: 10.1080/15548627.2019.1664144. Epub 2019 Sep 8.


We aimed to investigate the involvement of macroautophagy/autophagy in autoimmunity in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) through citrullination of VIM (vimentin) and its interaction with MHC class II in synovial fibroblasts (SFs). The cell surface expression of MHC class II and B7 costimulatory molecules on SFs was analyzed by flow cytometry after treatment with IFNG/IFN-γ (interferon gamma). Intracellular citrullinated autoantigens in SFs were analyzed by immunoblotting using serum from anti-citrullinated peptide antibodies (ACPA)-positive patient as a primary antibody. SFs were incubated in serum-free medium or treated with proteasome inhibitor MG132 to induce autophagy. An autophagy inhibitor 3-methyladenin (3-MA) was used. Intracellular citrullinated VIM (cVIM) was evaluated by immunoblotting and immunocytochemistry. The interaction between MHC class II and cVIM was evaluated with co-immunoprecipitation and proximity ligation assay (PLA). We demonstrated that MHC class II, CD274/B7-H1 and PDCD1LG2/B7-DC were expressed on SFs following treatment with IFNG whereas CD276/B7-H3 was detected on SFs regardless of the presence of IFNG. ACPA-positive sera recognized a 54 kDa protein in SFs. By immunoprecipitation, the 54 kDa protein recognized by RA sera was revealed to be cVIM. Following induction of autophagy, intracellular cVIM was increased in SFs but the effect was canceled by 3-MA. The interaction between MHC class II and cVIM was demonstrated by co-immunoprecipitation. Furthermore, PLA revealed the significant increase of MHC class II-cVIM interaction following induction of autophagy. Our findings suggest that SFs may contribute to the autoimmunity in RA through citrullination of VIM and its interaction with MHC class II promoted by autophagy.Abbreviations: 3-MA: 3-methyladenine; ACPA: anti-citrullinated peptide antibodies; anti-CCP: anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide antibody; cVIM: citrullinated VIM; BECN1: beclin1; DAPI: 4',6-diamidino-2-phenylindole; FBS: fetal bovine serum; HLA: human leukocyte antigen; IFNG/IFN-γ: interferon gamma; IL6: interleukin 6; IP: immunoprecipitation; MAP1LC3/LC3: microtubule associated protein 1 light chain 3; MFI: mean fluorescence index; MHC: major histocompatibility complex; OA: osteoarthritis; PADI: peptidyl arginine deiminase; PepA: pepstatin A; PBS: phosphate-buffered saline; PtdIns3K: phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase; RA: rheumatoid arthritis; SFs: synovial fibroblasts; siRNA: small interfering RNA; VIM: vimentin.

Keywords: Autophagy; MHC class II; citrullination; rheumatoid arthritis; vimentin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / genetics
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / metabolism
  • Autophagy / physiology*
  • Citrullination / physiology*
  • Citrulline / metabolism
  • Fibroblasts / metabolism*
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class II / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Vimentin / genetics
  • Vimentin / metabolism*


  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class II
  • Vimentin
  • Citrulline

Grants and funding

This work was supported by the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology; [KAKENHI-16K19591].