The Sa system is a recently described immune system that has a specificity and positive predictive value of nearly 100% for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in Asia, Europe and the Americas. Its sensitivity of 30-40% suggests that it identifies a subset of RA patients. Anti-Sa antibodies are present from disease onset and are predictive of disease severity. The immune reactants are plentiful in the target tissue: antigen is present in the synovium, IgG antibody in the fluid. Immunologically, Sa is a hapten-carrier antigen in which vimentin is the carrier and citrulline is the hapten. The citrullination of vimentin is closely related to apoptosis, and citrullinated vimentin is extremely sensitive to digestion by the ubiquitous calpains. Nevertheless, Sa is found in only a few cell lines. Calpastatin, the natural specific inhibitor of calpains, is also a RA-associated, albeit non-specific, autoimmune system. Is it possible that calpain-related apoptotic pathways could be prominent in cells containing Sa? The task is to reconcile the specificity of Sa/citrullinated proteins in a multifactorial and polygenic disease such as RA.
Keywords: anti-Sa autoantibodies, citrullinated proteins, diagnosis, prognosis, rheumatoid arthritis