Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is characterised by breach of self-tolerance towards citrullinated antigens with generation of anti-citrullinated peptide/proteins antibodies (ACPA). Currently, the nature and source of citrullinated antigens driving the humoral autoimmune response within synovial ectopic lymphoid structures (ELS) is a crucial unknown aspect of RA pathogenesis. Here we characterised the autoreactive B-cell response of lesional B cells isolated from ELS+RA synovium.Methods
Single synovial tissue CD19+cells were Fluorescence Activated Cell Sorting (FACS)-sorted and VH/VL Ig genes cloned to generate recombinant monoclonal antibodies (rmAbs) from patients with ELS+/ACPA+RA.Results
RA-rmAbs immunoreactivity analysis provided the following key findings: (1) in a chIP-based array containing 300 autoantigens and in a ‘citrullinome’ multiplex assay, a strong reactivity against citrullinated histones H2A/H2B (citH2A/H2B) was observed in ∼40% of RA-rmAbs, followed by cit-fibrinogen and cit-vimentin; (2) anti-citH2A/H2B-reactive RA-rmAbs (but not anti-citH2A/H2B negative) selectively recognised neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs) from peripheral blood and/or RA joint neutrophils; (3) anti-citH2A/citH2B and anti-NET immunobinding was dependent on affinity maturation and was completely abrogated following reversion of hypermutated IgVH/VL genes to germline sequences; (4) ELS+ (not ELS−) RA synovial tissues engrafted into Severe Combined ImmunoDeficiency (SCID) mice released human anti-citH2A/citH2B and anti-NET antibodies in association with the intra-graft expression of CXCL13 and lymphotoxin (LT)-β, two master regulators of ELS.Conclusion
We provided novel evidence that B cells differentiated within synovial ELS in the RA joints frequent target deiminated proteins which could be generated during NETosis of RA synovial neutrophils including histones. Thus, NETs could represent a source of citrullinated antigens fuelling the ACPA autoimmune response within the RA synovium.