IgG antinuclear antibodies (ANAs) are a dominant feature of several autoimmune diseases. We previously showed that systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is characterized by increased ANA+ IgG plasmablasts/plasma cells (PCs) through aberrant IgG PC differentiation rather than an antigen-specific tolerance defect. Here, we aimed to understand the differentiation pathways resulting in ANA+ IgG PCs in SLE patients. We demonstrate distinct profiles of ANA+ antigen-experienced B cells in SLE patients, characterized by either a high frequency of PCs or a high frequency of IgG+ memory B cells. This classification of SLE patients was unrelated to disease activity and remained stable over time in almost all patients, suggesting minimal influence of disease activity. A similar classification applies to antigen-specific B cell subsets in mice following primary immunization with T-independent and T-dependent antigens as well as in lupus-prone mouse models (MRL/lpr and NZB/W). We further show that, in both lupus-prone mice and SLE patients, the classification correlates with the serum autoantibody profile. In this study, we identified B cell phenotypes that we propose reflect an extrafollicular pathway for PC differentiation or a germinal center pathway, respectively. The classification we propose can be used to stratify patients for longitudinal studies and clinical trials.
Jolien Suurmond, Yemil Atisha-Fregoso, Ashley N. Barlev, Silvia A. Calderon, Meggan C. Mackay, Cynthia Aranow, Betty Diamond