Skeletal muscle provides the immunological micro-milieu for specific plasma cells in anti-synthetase syndrome-associated myositis

Acta Neuropathol. 2022 Aug;144(2):353-372. doi: 10.1007/s00401-022-02438-z. Epub 2022 May 25.


Anti-synthetase syndrome (ASyS)-associated myositis is a major subgroup of the idiopathic inflammatory myopathies (IIM) and is characterized by disease chronicity with musculoskeletal, dermatological and pulmonary manifestations. One of eight autoantibodies against the aminoacyl-transferase RNA synthetases (ARS) is detectable in the serum of affected patients. However, disease-specific therapeutic approaches have not yet been established.To obtain a deeper understanding of the underlying pathogenesis and to identify putative therapeutic targets, we comparatively investigated the most common forms of ASyS associated with anti-PL-7, anti-PL-12 and anti-Jo-1. Our cohort consisted of 80 ASyS patients as well as healthy controls (n = 40), diseased controls (n = 40) and non-diseased controls (n = 20). We detected a reduced extent of necrosis and regeneration in muscle biopsies from PL-12+ patients compared to Jo-1+ patients, while PL-7+ patients had higher capillary dropout in biopsies of skeletal muscle. Aside from these subtle alterations, no significant differences between ASyS subgroups were observed. Interestingly, a tissue-specific subpopulation of CD138+ plasma cells and CXCL12+/CXCL13+CD20+ B cells common to ASyS myositis were identified. These cells were localized in the endomysium associated with alkaline phosphatase+ activated mesenchymal fibroblasts and CD68+MHC-II+CD169+ macrophages. An MHC-I+ and MHC-II+ MxA negative type II interferon-driven milieu of myofiber activation, topographically restricted to the perifascicular area and the adjacent perimysium, as well as perimysial clusters of T follicular helper cells defined an extra-medullary immunological niche for plasma cells and activated B cells. Consistent with this, proteomic analyses of muscle tissues from ASyS patients demonstrated alterations in antigen processing and presentation. In-depth immunological analyses of peripheral blood supported a B-cell/plasma-cell-driven pathology with a shift towards immature B cells, an increase of B-cell-related cytokines and chemokines, and activation of the complement system. We hypothesize that a B-cell-driven pathology with the presence and persistence of a specific subtype of plasma cells in the skeletal muscle is crucially involved in the self-perpetuating chronicity of ASyS myositis. This work provides the conceptual framework for the application of plasma-cell-targeting therapies in ASyS myositis.

Keywords: Anti-synthetase syndrome; Jo-1; PL-12; PL-7; Pathophysiology; Plasma cells.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Autoantibodies
  • Humans
  • Ligases*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / pathology
  • Myositis* / complications
  • Myositis* / pathology
  • Plasma Cells
  • Proteomics


  • Autoantibodies
  • Ligases