Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America

Intra- and intermolecular spreading of autoimmunity involving the nuclear self-antigens La (SS-B) and Ro (SS-A).

PMID 7846070


We have tested the extent of immune self-tolerance to the ubiquitously expressed nuclear/cytoplasmic autoantigens La (SS-B) and Ro (SS-A) in healthy, nonautoimmune mice. Immunization of mice with recombinant mouse La resulted in a specific, isotype-switched autoantibody response, which was initially directed toward the La C subfragment (aa 111-242) but rapidly spread to involve the La A (aa 1-107) and La F (aa 243-345) regions of the La antigen. Intramolecular spreading of the anti-La antibody response was further demonstrated by the appearance of autoantibodies to multiple, nonoverlapping antigenic regions of La, after immunization of mice with the 107-aa La A subfragment. Moreover, immunization of mice with recombinant mouse or human La also elicited specific anti-60-kDa Ro IgG antibodies in all strains tested. Mice immunized with 60-kDa Ro produced a high titer anti-Ro antibody response, which was also associated with intermolecular spreading, resulting in the specific appearance of anti-La autoantibodies. These findings show that the development of autoantibodies to multiple components of the La/Ro ribonucleoprotein complex may follow initiation of immunity to a single component. In addition, the data reveal the incomplete nature of immune tolerance to La and Ro despite their endogenous expression in all nucleated cells. These observations are likely to account for the coexistence of anti-La/Ro antibodies in autoimmune disease and suggest a general explanation for the appearance of mixed autoantibody patterns in systemic autoimmune disorders.