Study Title:

Interferon regulatory factor 5 is a potential target of autoimmune response triggered by Epstein-barr virus and Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis in rheumatoid arthritis: investigating a mechanism of molecular mimicry.

Study Abstract


Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic disease characterised by a pro-inflammatory cytokines linked erosive joint damage and by humoral and cellular response against a broad range of self-peptides. Molecular mimicry between Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis (MAP) and host peptides has long been regarded as an RA pathogenetic mechanism. Using bioinformatic analysis we identified high sequence homology among interferon regulatory factor 5 (IRF5), EBV antigen BOLF1 and MAP antigen MAP_4027. Our objective was to evaluate the presence in sera of RA patients of antibodies (Abs) directed against human homologous IRF5 cross-reacting with BOLF1 and MAP_4027.

Frequency of reactivity against IRF5424-434, BOLF1305-320 and MAP_402718-32 was tested by indirect ELISA in sera from 71 RA patients and 60 healthy controls (HCs).

RA sera show a remarkable high frequency of reactivity against IRF5424-434 in comparison to HCs (69% vs. 8%; p<0.0001). Similarly, seroreactivity against BOLF1305-320 was more frequently detected in RA sera than in HCs counterpart (58% vs. 8%; p<0.0001). Frequency of Abs against MAP_402718-32 was 17% in RA sera vs. 5% in HCs with a p-value at the threshold level (p<0.051). Prevalence of Abs against at least one of the assessed epitopes reached 72% in RA patients and 15% among HCs. Levels of Abs in RA patients were significantly related to systemic inflammation.

IRF5 is a potential autoimmune target of RA. Our results support the hypothesis that EBV and MAP infections may be involved in the pathogenesis of RA, igniting a secondary immune response that cross-reacts against RA self-peptides.

Study Information

Clin Exp Rheumatol. 2018 Jan 15. [Epub ahead of print]

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