The dependency on neighboring amino acids for reactivity of anti-citrullinated protein antibodies to citrullinated proteins

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune connective tissue disease, associated with the presence of anti-citrullinated protein antibodies (ACPA). These antibodies have been found in approximately 70% of patients suffering from RA and they are currently used for diagnosis of RA. Although they exhibit an absolute need for citrulline for antibody reactivity, no precise cognate antigen for these antibodies has been determined. In this study, we analyzed the reactivity of ACPA to various citrullinated peptides by modified enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays, in order to determine the dependency of specific amino acids for antibody reactivity. A non-human protein (ovalbumin) and antigens directly related to RA were used as templates for synthesis of non-modified and citrullinated peptides, becoming potential target epitopes. Mainly peptides containing a Cit-Gly motif were recognized by ACPAs, while no particular amino acids N-terminal of citrulline were found to be essential for antibody reactivity. Moreover, ACPA reactivity was not restricted to antigens known to be associated with ACPA-positive RA alone, but also to proteins without relation to RA, primarily illustrating that any protein in theory can be turned into an RA autoantigen, by introducing Cit-Gly motifs. Knowledge about the interaction between ACPAs and their citrullinated targets is important for understanding autoimmune ACPA responses in RA, which are known to contribute to the pathophysiology.