Pathways of plasma cell differentiation in autoimmunity. The overall goal of this project is to directly assess the role of BCMA in the regulation of plasma cell (PC) survival and the development of autoantibodies. BCMA is a member of the TNF receptor family and was first described by our group as a critical receptor on PCs that, upon binding its ligands BAFF and APRIL, mediates their long-term survival in the bone marrow (BM). This has led to our hypothesis that BCMA has an intrinsic effect on PC longevity by directly delivering pro-survival signals to mature BM PCs that serve as a long-term source for antibody production. However, signaling through BCMA could also affect earlier B cell intermediates that give rise to BM PCs and, thus, contribute indirectly to the development and persistence of antibody- producing PCs in the BM. We have previously demonstrated that the development of a reservoir of BM PCs could be achieved in a T cell-dependent immune response through the generation of a unique BM resident cell type, the PC progenitor (PCpre), with the capacity for both long-term self renewal and terminal differentiation to long-lived PCs in the BM1-3. New data provided in this application demonstrates that the ability of PCpre to give rise to long-lived BM PCs is dependent on BAFF/APRIL. We further hypothesize that the capacity to sustain long-lived PCs is achieved in part at the PCpre stage, specifically through BCMA signaling in PCpre, which controls both their maintenance in the BM and their differentiation to long-lived PCs. Thus, BCMA signaling is required for the establishment and stability of a normal repertoire of specific, protective antibodies. In the absence of this mechanism, we predicted that the normal functions of PC-derived stable antibody production in immune homeostasis would be disrupted. In support of this hypothesis, we recently reported that, in both the lpr and New Zealand-derived autoimmune-prone mouse models, BCMA deficiency causes dramatic B cell lymphoproliferation, accumulation of PCpre and long-lived PCs in secondary lymphoid organs, enhanced autoantibody production, increased numbers of BAFF-producing cells, and early lethality compared to BCMA- sufficient autoimmune-prone mice4. These observations suggest that, in autoimmune-prone mice, signals through BCMA on B cells help control B cell homeostasis and the stringent elimination of autoreactive B cells. In this proposal, we will use a combination of transgenic, congenic, and knockout mice to characterize BCMA signaling at sequential stages of the PC differentiation pathway. This strategy will allow us to determine the physiologic role of BCMA in PC biology as well as intrinsic alterations in B cells, exogenous signals from innate immune cells, and T cell help in controlling abnormal development and survival of long-lived PCs in autoimmune-prone mice.

Public Health Relevance

In certain autoimmune disorders, B cells produce proteins called antibodies that recognize and bind to self antigens, resulting in tissue damage. The purpose of this project is to study how these harmful self-reactive antibody-producing B cells survive for long periods of time in autoimmunity. The information gained from the proposed studies will significantly contribute to our understanding of the molecular signals that control th lifespan of antibody-producing B cells. This information will inform our thinking of new ways to design more effective treatments to specifically eliminate self-reactive B cells in autoimmune disease.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
Research Project (R01)
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Hypersensitivity, Autoimmune, and Immune-mediated Diseases Study Section (HAI)
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Johnson, David R
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University of Virginia
Schools of Medicine
United States
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Coquery, Christine M; Loo, William M; Wade, Nekeithia S et al. (2015) BAFF regulates follicular helper t cells and affects their accumulation and interferon-? production in autoimmunity. Arthritis Rheumatol 67:773-84
Coquery, Christine M; Wade, Nekeithia S; Loo, William M et al. (2014) Neutrophils contribute to excess serum BAFF levels and promote CD4+ T cell and B cell responses in lupus-prone mice. PLoS One 9:e102284
Peperzak, Victor; Vikstrom, Ingela; Walker, Jennifer et al. (2013) Mcl-1 is essential for the survival of plasma cells. Nat Immunol 14:290-7