Autoimmune epitopes in messenger RNA.
Patients with systemic autoimmune disorders produce autoantibodies against sequence-specific conformational RNA epitopes on U1 snRNA, 28S rRNA, and transfer RNAs. The molecular basis for immunological reactivity with these highly abundant and stable RNAs is not understood. Here, we report the existence of discrete RNA epitopes in messenger RNAs that are generally less abundant and less stable than snRNAs and tRNAs. An iterative selection and amplification procedure using pooled autoimmune patient sera identified immunoreactive mRNA species. Following deconvolution of the pools to identify the reactive sera, several mRNAs recognized by these autoantibodies were cloned and sequenced. Detailed analysis using one particular serum indicated reactivity against the messages encoding alternative splicing factor (ASF/SF2) and calmodulin. Deletion and site-directed mutagenesis determined that an epitope recognized by this serum is located in a 17-base stem-loop structure common to both messages. This serum was then used to immunoprecipitate native mRNAs encoding ASF/SF2 and calmodulin from total HeLa cell RNA. Our results demonstrate that despite its low abundance and instability, messenger RNA is capable of reacting with autoantibodies generated during an autoimmune response. These data are consistent with direct presentation as a model to explain the generation of RNA conformation-specific autoantibodies.
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