C-reactive protein (CRP) and anti-CRP autoantibodies in systemic lupus erythematosus : a study on the occurrence and clinical implications of anti-CRP antibodies and CRP-mediated complement activation

Sammanfattning: Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is an autoimmune disease characterized by production of a wide range of autoantibodies, multiple organ involvement and by local formation or tissue deposition of immune complexes (ICs) in the inflamed organs. In contrast to most systemic inflammatory conditions, and despite raised levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, SLE flares are rarely reflected by elevated C-reactive protein (CRP), an important acute-phase reactant in man with homologs in vertebrates and several invertebrates. As a part of the innate immune system, CRP binds certain molecules exposed on the surface of dying cells/apoptotic bodies and on the surface of pathogens and mediates their elimination by uptake in the reticuloendothelial system. CRP also interacts with IgG-containing immune complexes, binds Fc receptors and activates the complement system via C1q.The aims of this thesis were to investigate the complement activation properties of CRP; to elucidate if anti-CRP antibodies occur in SLE and, if so, whether anti-CRP antibody levels correlate with disease activity in SLE; to test the hypothesis that autoantibodies to pro-inflammatory cytokines prevent rise of CRP; and to survey if autoantibodies to certain nuclear antigens or to CRP correlate with cytokine-inducing properties of ICs from SLE sera.We have demonstrated that CRP bound to phosphorylcholine is a powerful activator of the classical complement pathway already in the CRP concentration range 4 to 10 mg/L, but with a marked inhibition at CRP levels above 150 mg/L. Autoantibodies to the monomeric form of CRP were found in approximately 40 percent of SLE patients and in a few sera from patients with primary Sjögren’s syndrome, but not in rheumatoid arthritis or in inflammatory bowel disease. The anti-CRP antibody levels showed significant correlations to several laboratory and clinical measurements, and anti-CRP positivity was associated with renal involvement in SLE. Native CRP levels were not correlated with anti-CRP or anti-cytokine antibody levels. Hence, the presence of antibodies to monomeric CRP or to CRP-inducing cytokines is an unlikely explanation to the relative failure of CRP response in patients with active lupus. However, antibodies to TNFα were found in subnormal levels at disease flares, whereas antibodies to TGFβ were found in supranormal levels as compared to healthy subjects. In contrast to antibodies against CRP and DNA, anti-SSA and anti-SSB antibodies may regulate the inflammatory process in SLE by enhancing IC formation and subsequent production of cytokines such as IL-6, IL-10 and IL-12p40. Hypothetically, anti-CRP autoantibodies may be of pathogenic importance, for instance by binding to monomeric CRP on cell and tissue surfaces and thereby increasing the risk of extrahepatic deposition of apoptotic material and in situ formation of ICs.