Cross-reactivity of IgM anti-modified protein antibodies in rheumatoid arthritis despite limited mutational load

Arthritis Res Ther. 2021 Sep 3;23(1):230. doi: 10.1186/s13075-021-02609-5.


Background: Anti-modified protein antibodies (AMPA) targeting citrullinated, acetylated and/or carbamylated self-antigens are hallmarks of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Although AMPA-IgG cross-reactivity to multiple post-translational modifications (PTMs) is evident, it is unknown whether the first responding B cells, expressing IgM, display similar characteristics or if cross-reactivity is crucially dependent on somatic hypermutation (SHM). We now studied the reactivity of (germline) AMPA-IgM to further understand the breach of B cell tolerance and to identify if cross-reactivity depends on extensive SHM. Moreover, we investigated whether AMPA-IgM can efficiently recruit immune effector mechanisms.

Methods: Polyclonal AMPA-IgM were isolated from RA patients and assessed for cross-reactivity towards PTM antigens. AMPA-IgM B cell receptor sequences were obtained by single cell isolation using antigen-specific tetramers. Subsequently, pentameric monoclonal AMPA-IgM, their germline counterparts and monomeric IgG variants were generated. The antibodies were analysed on a panel of PTM antigens and tested for complement activation.

Results: Pentameric monoclonal and polyclonal AMPA-IgM displayed cross-reactivity to multiple antigens and different PTMs. PTM antigen recognition was still present, although reduced, after reverting the IgM into germline. Valency of AMPA-IgM was crucial for antigen recognition as PTM-reactivity significantly decreased when AMPA-IgM were expressed as IgG. Furthermore, AMPA-IgM was 15- to 30-fold more potent in complement-activation compared to AMPA-IgG.

Conclusions: We provide first evidence that AMPA-IgM are cross-reactive towards different PTMs, indicating that PTM (cross-)reactivity is not confined to IgG and does not necessarily depend on extensive somatic hypermutation. Moreover, our data indicate that a diverse set of PTM antigens could be involved in the initial tolerance breach in RA and suggest that AMPA-IgM can induce complement-activation and thereby inflammation.

Keywords: AMPA; B cells; IgM; Rheumatoid arthritis; Somatic hypermutation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid* / genetics
  • Autoantibodies
  • Autoantigens
  • B-Lymphocytes
  • Cross Reactions
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin M


  • Autoantibodies
  • Autoantigens
  • Immunoglobulin M