Protein citrullination is an important posttranslational modification recognized by rheumatoid arthritis (RA)–specific autoantibodies. One of the citrullinating enzymes, peptidyl arginine deiminase type 4 (PAD-4), is genetically associated with development of RA in some populations, although the mechanism(s) mediating this effect are not yet clear. There have been descriptions of anti–PAD-4 autoantibodies in different rheumatic diseases. This study was undertaken to investigate whether anti–PAD-4 antibodies are specific to RA, are associated with disease phenotype or severity, and whether PAD-4 polymorphisms influence the anti–PAD-4 autoantibody response.
Sera from patients with established RA, patients with other rheumatic diseases, and healthy adults were assayed for anti–PAD-4 autoantibodies by immunoprecipitation of in vitro–translated PAD-4. The epitope(s) recognized by PAD-4 autoantibodies were mapped using various PAD-4 truncations. PAD-4 genotyping was performed on RA patients with the TaqMan assay. Joint erosions were scored from hand and foot radiographs using the Sharp/van der Heijde method.
PAD-4 autoantibodies were found in 36–42% of RA patients, and were very infrequent in controls. Recognition by anti–PAD-4 autoantibodies required the 119 N-terminal amino acids, which encompass the 3 nonsynonymous polymorphisms associated with disease susceptibility. Strikingly, the anti–PAD-4 immune response was associated with the RA susceptibility haplotype of PADI4. Anti–PAD-4 antibodies were associated with more severe joint destruction in RA.
Our findings indicate that anti–PAD-4 antibodies are specific markers of RA, independently associated with more severe disease, suggesting that an anti–PAD-4 immune response may be involved in pathways of joint damage in this disease. Polymorphisms in the PADI4 gene influence the immune response to the PAD-4 protein, potentially contributing to disease propagation.