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Open Access Research article

B-lymphocyte stimulator/a proliferation-inducing ligand heterotrimers are elevated in the sera of patients with autoimmune disease and are neutralized by atacicept and B-cell maturation antigen-immunoglobulin

Stacey R Dillon1*, Brandon Harder1, Kenneth B Lewis1, Margaret D Moore1, Hong Liu1, Thomas R Bukowski1, Nels B Hamacher1, Megan M Lantry1, Mark Maurer1, Cecile M Krejsa1, Jeff L Ellsworth1, Susan Pederson1, Keith B Elkon2, Mark H Wener2, Maria Dall'Era3 and Jane A Gross1

Author Affiliations

1 Preclinical Research and Development, ZymoGenetics, Inc., 1201 Eastlake Ave East, Seattle, WA 98102, USA

2 Division of Rheumatology, School of Medicine, University of Washington, 1959 NE Pacific Street, Box 356428, Seattle, WA 98195-6428, USA

3 Division of Rheumatology, Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, 533 Parnassus Avenue, Box 0633, San Francisco, CA 94143-0633, USA

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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2010, 12:R48  doi:10.1186/ar2959


See related editorial by Stehl, http://arthritis-research.com/content/12/2/111

Published: 19 March 2010

Abstract

Introduction

B-lymphocyte stimulator (BLyS) and a proliferation-inducing ligand (APRIL) are members of the tumor necrosis factor (TNF) family that regulate B-cell maturation, survival, and function. They are overexpressed in a variety of autoimmune diseases and reportedly exist in vivo not only as homotrimers, but also as BLyS/APRIL heterotrimers.

Methods

A proprietary N-terminal trimerization domain was used to produce recombinant BLyS/APRIL heterotrimers. Heterotrimer biologic activity was compared with that of BLyS and APRIL in a 4-hour signaling assay by using transmembrane activator and CAML interactor (TACI)-transfected Jurkat cells and in a 4-day primary human B-cell proliferation assay. A bead-based immunoassay was developed to quantify native heterotrimers in human sera from healthy donors (n = 89) and patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE; n = 89) or rheumatoid arthritis (RA; n = 30). Heterotrimer levels were compared with BLyS and APRIL homotrimer levels in a subset of these samples.

Results

The recombinant heterotrimers consisted mostly of one BLyS and two APRIL molecules. Heterotrimer signaling did not show any significant difference compared with APRIL in the TACI-Jurkat assay. Heterotrimers were less-potent inducers of B-cell proliferation than were homotrimeric BLyS or APRIL (EC50, nMol/L: BLyS, 0.02; APRIL, 0.17; heterotrimers, 4.06). The soluble receptor fusion proteins atacicept and B-cell maturation antigen (BCMA)-immunoglobulin (Ig) neutralized the activity of BLyS, APRIL, and heterotrimers in both cellular assays, whereas B-cell activating factor belonging to the TNF family receptor (BAFF-R)-Ig neutralized only the activity of BLyS. In human sera, significantly more patients with SLE had detectable BLyS (67% versus 18%; P < 0.0001), APRIL (38% versus 3%; P < 0.0002), and heterotrimer (27% versus 8%; P = 0.0013) levels compared with healthy donors. Significantly more patients with RA had detectable APRIL, but not BLyS or heterotrimer, levels compared with healthy donors (83% versus 3%; P < 0.0001). Heterotrimer levels weakly correlated with BLyS, but not APRIL, levels.

Conclusions

Recombinant BLyS/APRIL heterotrimers have biologic activity and are inhibited by atacicept and BCMA-Ig, but not by BAFF-R-Ig. A novel immunoassay demonstrated that native BLyS/APRIL heterotrimers, as well as BLyS and APRIL homotrimers, are elevated in patients with autoimmune diseases.