In vitro selection of RNA epitopes using autoimmune patient serum.
Nucleotide-specific autoimmune epitopes have not been precisely defined despite the fact that certain kinds of DNA and RNA species are known to bind autoantibodies. Our laboratory has used nucleic acid epitope libraries, consisting of randomized RNA pools, to select specific RNA conformers recognized by antibodies, including a peptide-specific antibody. In the present study, serum from a patient with systemic lupus erythematosus was used to select ligands from an RNA epitope library. The selected RNA contained sequences that were found to be similar to regions within the U1 small nuclear RNA, previously shown to react with autoantibodies. Furthermore, the selected RNA epitopes were able to inhibit autoantibody reactivity with specific regions of U1 RNA, thus demonstrating their immunologic cross-reactivity with the natural RNA epitope. Although the origins of nucleic acid-binding autoantibodies are not understood, the identification of these defined U1 RNA epitopes, in regions of the RNA where cell proteins are not known to bind, is most compatible with models of immunologic cross-reactivity or with direct presentation to the immune system rather than with anti-Id models. These experiments demonstrate that RNA epitope libraries may be used to reveal the fine specificity of autoimmune recognition and provide a useful approach to study RNA-protein interactions.
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