Human immunoglobulin (Ig) G4 usually displays antiinflammatory activity, and observations of IgG4 autoantibodies causing severe autoimmune disorders are therefore poorly understood. In blood, IgG4 naturally engages in a stochastic process termed "Fab-arm exchange" in which unrelated IgG4s exchange half-molecules continuously. The resulting IgG4 antibodies are composed of two different binding sites, thereby acquiring monovalent binding and inability to cross-link for each antigen recognized. Here, we demonstrate that this process amplifies autoantibody pathogenicity in a classic IgG4-mediated autoimmune disease: muscle-specific kinase (MuSK) myasthenia gravis. In mice, monovalent anti-MuSK IgG4s caused rapid and severe myasthenic muscle weakness, whereas the same antibodies in their parental bivalent form were less potent or did not induce a phenotype. Mechanistically this could be explained by opposing effects on MuSK signaling. Isotype switching to IgG4 in an autoimmune response thereby may be a critical step in the development of disease. Our study establishes functional monovalency as a pathogenic mechanism in IgG4-mediated autoimmune disease and potentially other disorders.
Keywords: IgG4; MuSK; autoimmunity; monoclonal antibodies; myasthenia gravis.
Copyright © 2021 the Author(s). Published by PNAS.