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posted on 22.03.2018, 11:15 by Andreas Recke, Ann-Katrin Regensburger, Florian Weigold, Antje Müller, Harald Heidecke, Gabriele Marschner, Christoph M. Hammers, Ralf J. Ludwig, Gabriela Riemekasten

Systemic sclerosis (SSc) is a severe chronic autoimmune disease with high morbidity and mortality. Sera of patients with SSc contain a large variety of autoantibody (aab) reactivities. Among these are functionally active aab that bind to G protein-coupled receptors (GPCR) such as C-X-C motif chemokine receptor 3 (CXCR3) and 4 (CXCR4). Aab binding to the N-terminal portion of these two GPCRs have been shown to be associated with slower disease progression in SSc, especially deterioration of lung function. Aabs binding to GPCRs exhibit functional activities by stimulating or inhibiting GPCR signaling. The specific functional activity of aabs crucially depends on the epitopes they bind to. To identify the location of important epitopes on CXCR3 recognized by aabs from SSc patients, we applied an array of 36 overlapping 18-20mer peptides covering the entire CXCR3 sequence, comparing epitope specificity of SSc patient sera (N = 32, with positive reactivity with CXCR3) to healthy controls (N = 30). Binding of SSc patient and control sera to these peptides was determined by ELISA. Using a Bayesian model approach, we found increased binding of SSc patient sera to peptides corresponding to intracellular epitopes within CXCR3, while the binding signal to extracellular portions of CXCR3 was found to be reduced. Experimentally determined epitopes showed a good correspondence to those predicted by the ABCpred tool. To verify these results and to translate them into a novel diagnostic ELISA, we combined the peptides that represent SSc-associated epitopes into a single ELISA and evaluated its potential to discriminate SSc patients (N = 31) from normal healthy controls (N = 47). This ELISA had a sensitivity of 0.61 and a specificity of 0.85. Our data reveals that SSc sera preferentially bind intracellular epitopes of CXCR3, while an extracellular epitope in the N-terminal domain that appears to be target of aabs in healthy individuals is not bound by SSc sera. Based upon our results, we could devise a novel ELISA concept that may be helpful for monitoring of SSc patients.

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