Background: The capacity of lupus autoantibodies to enter living cells and bind to molecules for which they have intrinsic affinity is not well appreciated. In previous studies, we identified a subgroup of three murine monoclonal IgG anti-DNA antibodies, derived from lupus-prone MRL-lpr/lpr mice, that localized within nuclei of cells in multiple organs and induced functional perturbations, in vivo, after passive transfer to normal mice. To examine the mechanisms of this phenomenon, we now extend these observations, using the same monoclonal anti-DNA antibodies and cultured cell lines.
Experimental design: Multiple experimental approaches were utilized to track nuclear localization of anti-DNA antibodies, including direct immunofluorescence, confocal microscopy and immunoelectron microscopy. The requirements for nuclear localization were further evaluated quantitatively, in nuclei isolated from co-cultures of cells and 125I-Ig, under varying experimental conditions.
Results: Nuclear localization was observed with the same subset of anti-DNA antibodies that localized within nuclei in vivo; it was dependent on the antigen-binding region of the molecule; and it was not found with other anti-DNA antibodies. At progressive intervals, the Ig were observed: at the cell surface, within the cytoplasm, clustered at the nuclear pore, and within the nucleus. Nuclear localization of Ig was found to be a time- and temperature- dependent process, specific for a subset of anti-DNA antibodies and dependent on the antigen binding region of the Ig.
Conclusions: This is the first demonstration that monoclonal autoantibodies can traverse both the cell and nuclear membranes to localize within the nuclei of cultured cells. Furthermore, nuclear localization of Ig was regulated in a manner analogous to that of other large cytoplasmic proteins that enter the nucleus. This confirms and extends our results using the same antibodies in whole animals, and it provides the basis to further examine the underlying mechanisms and consequences of this phenomenon.