Affinity maturation shapes the function of agonistic antibodies to peptidylarginine deiminase type 4 in rheumatoid arthritis

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The citrullinating enzyme peptidylarginine deiminase type 4 (PAD4) is the target of a polyclonal group of autoantibodies in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). A subgroup of such antibodies, initially identified by cross-reactivity with peptidylarginine deiminase type 3 (PAD3), is strongly associated with progression of radiographic joint damage and interstitial lung disease and has the unique ability to activate PAD4. The features of these antibodies in terms of their T cell-dependent origin, genetic characteristics and effect of individual antibody specificities on PAD4 function remain to be defined.


We used PAD4 tagged with the monomeric fluorescent protein mWasabi to isolate PAD4-specific memory B cells from anti-PAD4 positive patients with RA and applied single cell cloning technologies to obtain monoclonal antibodies.


Among 44 single B cells, we cloned five antibodies with PAD4-activating properties. Sequence analysis, germline reversion experiments and antigen specificity assays suggested that autoantibodies to PAD4 are not polyreactive and arise from PAD4-reactive precursors. Somatic mutations increase the agonistic activity of these antibodies at low calcium concentrations by facilitating their interaction with structural epitopes that modulate calcium-binding site 5 in PAD4.


PAD4-activating antibodies directly amplify a key process in disease pathogenesis, making them unique among other autoantibodies in RA. Understanding the molecular basis for their functionality may inform the design of future PAD4 inhibitors.

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