Different Hierarchies of Anti-Modified Protein Autoantibody Reactivities in Rheumatoid Arthritis

Arthritis Rheumatol. 2020 Oct;72(10):1643-1657. doi: 10.1002/art.41385. Epub 2020 Sep 10.


Objective: Anti-citrullinated protein antibodies (ACPAs) are a hallmark of seropositive rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Yet, the precise disease-relevant autoantigens that are targeted by ACPAs remains a matter of debate. This study utilized patient-derived monoclonal ACPAs, rather than serum autoantibody analysis, to characterize the multireactivity to different protein modifications and to reveal autoantibody subsets in patients with RA.

Methods: Twelve human monoclonal ACPAs (positive by the second-generation cyclic citrullinated peptide test) were generated from 6 RA patients, and a head-to-head comparison of their reactivities was performed. For profiling, we used a complementary DNA-based protein array (Engine GmbH) and 3 peptide-screening platforms with RA autoantigens (Thermo Fisher Scientific), citrullinated and carbamylated peptides (NimbleGen/Roche), or histone-derived peptides with different posttranslational modifications (JPT Histone Code), covering >207,000 peptides (>7,800 gene products).

Results: The fine-specificity profiles of the investigated ACPAs varied, but all of the monoclonal ACPAs displayed multireactivity to a large number of citrullinated peptides/proteins, each characterized by specific binding properties. ACPA subsets could be defined by clone-distinct consensus binding motifs (e.g., Cit-Gly, Gly-Cit, or Arg-Cit-Asp), with the most common ACPA recognition being that of a Gly in the +1 flanking position, but with additional amino acid preferences. For ACPA protein recognition, we observed a preference for citrullinated RNA-binding proteins with high Arg/Gly content. Six of the 12 ACPA clones also bound acetylated lysine (KAc) or homocitrulline peptide motifs, displaying a similar affinity or higher apparent affinity than that for citrullinated peptides.

Conclusion: ACPAs and anti-modified protein autoantibodies represent overlapping facets of RA autoimmunity and bind to a wide variety of modified proteins, extending well beyond the historically recognized set of RA autoantigens. So far, KAc reactivity has been detected only in the context of anti-carbamylated and anti-citrullinated peptide autoantibody responses, postulating the existence of hierarchies of autoreactivity in RA. Future investigations of ACPA fine specificities and functionality should take into consideration the presence of consensus Cit/Carb/KAc motifs and the multireactivity of these autoantibodies in patients with RA.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Citrullinated Protein Antibodies / immunology
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / immunology*
  • Autoantibodies / immunology*
  • Autoantigens / immunology
  • Epitopes / immunology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male


  • Anti-Citrullinated Protein Antibodies
  • Autoantibodies
  • Autoantigens
  • Epitopes