Objective: To assess the significance of autoantibodies to RA33, the A2 protein of the heterogeneous nuclear ribonucleoproteins (hnRNP), and to the related hnRNP proteins A1, B1, and B2 in rheumatic diseases.
Methods: Using a partially purified preparation of hnRNP-A and hnRNP-B proteins, sera from 303 patients with various rheumatic diseases were investigated by immunoblotting. For the analysis of cross-reactivities, autoantibodies were affinity purified by blot elution.
Results: Anti-A2/RA33 was found in 35% of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients, 38% of mixed connective tissue disease (MCTD) patients, 23% of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) patients, and, apart from single exceptions, not in patients with other rheumatic diseases. All anti-A2/RA33-positive sera were also reactive with B1 and B2, and anti-A2/RA33 antibodies cross-reacted with both proteins. Antibodies to hnRNP-A1 were found less frequently; moreover, the majority of anti-A1-positive sera also contained anti-A2/RA33 antibodies. In anti-A1, anti-A2/RA33 double-positive sera, cross-reactivity between the 2 antibodies was generally observed. In SLE patients, the presence of anti-A2/RA33 was correlated with the presence of anti-(U1) small nuclear RNP (snRNP) and anti-Sm (P < 0.0001 and P < 0.005, respectively), but there was no evidence for cross-reactivity between antibodies to hnRNP and antibodies to snRNP antigens.
Conclusion: Since both hnRNPs and snRNPs are essential components of the spliceosome, the data show that the immune systems of patients with RA, SLE, and MCTD react to this functional complex. However, compared with MCTD and SLE patients, RA patients have a more restricted immune response to the spliceosome: they react to hnRNP proteins, particularly to hnRNP-A2/RA33, but not to snRNPs.