RNA recognition by autoantigens and autoantibodies.
The La, Ro, Sm and RNP autoantigens have been intensely studied over the past decade since cDNAs encoding autoantigens have been available. Most of these autoantigens are closely associated with RNA in RNP particles and molecular studies have provided insights into their modes of recognition and binding to RNA. For example, a common RNA Recognition Motif (RRM) was found to be a critical component of the RNA-binding domain of these autoantigens and the three dimensional structure of the RRM has been solved. As described in other articles in this series, the presence of La, Ro, Sm and RNP autoantibodies correlates with disease subsets, such as Sjogren's syndrome, systemic lupus erythematous and other connective tissue diseases. Immunological analysis of sera from autoimmune patients using recombinant autoantigens has revealed that multiple epitopes reside along the proteins and these represent both continuous and discontinuous (conformational) autotopes. Findings to date support a model of autoantibody induction which involves the direct presentation of proteinaceous autoantigens to the immune system. Circumstantial evidence has suggested that immunological crossreactivity between systemic autoantigens and structural components of infectious agents may play an initial role in the autoimmune response to certain antigens. However, the etiology of autoimmune diseases is probably multifactoral with genetic and other immune features acting on the organismal level. In addition, RNA molecules themselves can be autoantigens with higher order structural conformations which are recognized by RNP-type autoantibodies. Immune crossreactivity and/or direct presentation may generate autoantibodies reactive with conformational RNA epitopes. If crossreactivity with components of cellular or infectious agents give rise to RNA epitopes, they may represent structural or functional mimetics of the primary epitopes that actually drive the response. These ideas are discussed with respect to the role of mimetic processes in molecular recognition during autoimmunity.
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