Autoimmune diseases are chronic and often disabling illnesses that affect millions of Americans. Current treatments help to prevent the symptoms of autoimmune disease, but there are no cures. Autoimmune disease is thought to be due to a combination of genetic predispositions and environmental factors, but the etiology is not fully understood. In order to develop new and improved treatments, and to potentially find a cure, a better understanding of the underlying molecular mechanisms of autoimmune disease is essential. Using a newly established strain of mutant mice, we found that a small targeted deletion in the gene encoding the transcription factor Ikaros, resulted in a profound defect in immune tolerance, with high levels of autoreactive antibodies in the serum of very young mice. Antibodies are produced by B cells, and the presence of autoreactive antibodies indicates that Ikaros is necessary to control how B cells respond to antigen and to ensure tolerance to self. A role for Ikaros in human autoimmune disease is supported by recent genome-wide association studies (GWAS), where genetic variants in the Ikaros gene locus (IKZF1) have been linked to several autoimmune diseases. Furthermore, recent studies have reported patients with autoimmune disease that carry IKZF1 mutations. We propose to employ our Ikaros-mutant mice as a new model of autoimmunity to investigate the molecular mechanisms underlying the break of tolerance in Ikaros-mutated B cells. We have preliminary data suggesting that Ikaros regulates two distinct stages of B-cell maturation that are critical for proper tolerance: The central tolerance checkpoint and the requirement for costimulatory signal upon Ag encounter in the periphery. We will use this mouse model to directly test the hypothesis that Ikaros limits autoreactive B cells by enforcing central tolerance and establishing a requirement for the ?second signal? (indicating danger) through epigenetic mechanisms. Accordingly, our study design is focused on an understanding of central tolerance and B-cell autoreactivity, using a combination of in vivo and ex vivo approaches. to directly assess the gene expression, epigenetic and signaling pathways associated with proper versus aberrant B cell activation. Specifically, we will investigate the role of Ikaros in BCR signaling and establishment of central tolerance (Aim 1). We will employ our Ikaros-mutant model to investigate the role of Ikaros in the molecular mechanisms regulating mature B-cell response to antigen (Aim 2). Lastly, we will examine the B-cell intrinsic, as well as the relative extrinsic contributions and roles of different immune cell lineages in the observed break of B-cell tolerance (Aim 3).
Autoimmune diseases are a major health problem in the US, causing debilitating chronic and in some cases fatal diseases, and are thought to be due to a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental triggers. Recent genome wide association studies (GWAS) have identified autoimmune disease SNPs linked to the IKZF1 gene encoding the transcription factor Ikaros. The goal of this research is to increase our understanding of how genetic alteration of Ikaros function can lead to autoimmune disease, in order to facilitate future rational development of targeted therapies.