The production of antibodies by antibody-secreting cells (ASCs) is critically important for immune responses to many different pathogens. However, in autoimmune diseases where B cell tolerance is broken, many ASCs secrete autoantibodies and contribute in a major way to organ pathology. The differentiation of B cells into ASCs is controlled by a cohort of key transcription factors including Ets-1, which serves as a negative regulator of this process. In the absence of Ets-1, B cells undergo enhanced differentiation into ASCs many of which secrete autoantibodies as demonstrated by high titers of IgM and IgG autoantibodies in the serum. Recently Toll- like receptor (TLR) signaling, particularly via TLR7 and TLR9, has been implicated in the activation of autoreactive B cells to differentiate into ASCs. Interestingly, Ets-1 deficient B cells exhibit enhanced responses to TLR7 and TLR9 ligands in vitro and Ets-1 knockout mice lacking the TLR adaptor protein Myd88 have reduced autoantibody production. Toll-like receptor signaling is a potent inducer of the expression of Blimp-1, a key transcription factor that drives ASC differentiation. Ets-1 physically interacts with Blimp-1 to inhibit the ability of Blimp-1 to bind target DNA sequences. In contrast, a closely related transcription factor Ets-2 is unable to block Blimp-1 binding or to inhibit ASC differentiation. Ets-1 also is thought to regulate the expression of critical target genes controlling ASC formation, but the identity of most of these targets remains unclear. In this application we propose a variety of assays to further define the role of Ets-1 in regulating target gene expression, Blimp-1 activity and ASC differentiation. These studies will be aided by comparing biological activities of Ets-1, which can block ASC differentiation, with the closely related Ets-2 protein, which lacks this activity.
The specific aims of the proposal are (1) to determine which cell types require Ets-1 activity to limit ASC formation, autoantibody secretion and autoimmune disease, (2) to examine the in vivo role of TLR7 and 9 ligands in activating Ets-1 deficient B cells, (3) to identify Ets-1 dependent gene expression pathways regulating ASC formation and (4) to identify structural features of Ets-1 that impart a unique ability to regulate ASC development. Together our studies will provide novel insights into the transcriptional regulation of B cell differentiation particularly in situations of autoantibody secretion.

Public Health Relevance

As part of the immune response to pathogens, B cells differentiate into antibody-secreting cells (ASCs) that produce high levels of antibodies to fight infection. In autoimmune disease, there are large numbers of ASCs that secrete antibodies that react with self-tissues. Information gleaned from the studies proposed will help define the molecular details of how B cells differentiate into ASCs and how that process is defective in autoimmune disease, thereby potentially identifying new strategies to stimulate or inhibit this process clinically.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
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Cellular and Molecular Immunology - B Study Section (CMIB)
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Rothermel, Annette L
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State University of New York at Buffalo
Schools of Medicine
United States
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