BACKGROUND/PURPOSE: Patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are at increased risk for cardiovascular disease, an observation not explained by traditional cardiac risk factors and generally limited to those with RA-associated autoantibodies such as rheumatoid factor and anti-citrullinated protein antibodies (ACPA). We hypothesized that citrullinated proteins within the atherosclerotic plaque can be targeted by ACPA, forming stimulatory immune complexes which propagate the progression of atherosclerosis. METHODS AND RESULTS: Protein lysates prepared from atherosclerotic segments of human aorta were investigated for the presence of citrulline-modified proteins and specifically citrullinated fibrinogen (cFb) by immunoprecipitation and/or immunoblotting followed by mass spectrometry. Immunohistochemistry was performed in coronary artery plaques for the presence of citrullinated proteins and the PAD4 enzyme. Serum levels of anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide (CCP), anti-citrullinated vimentin (cVim), and anti-cFb antibodies were measured in 134 women with seropositive RA previously characterized for the presence of subclinical atherosclerosis by electron beam CT scan (EBCT). Western analysis of atherosclerotic plaque lysates demonstrated several citrullinated proteins and the presence of cFb was confirmed by immunoprecipitation, and mass spectrometry. Immunohistochemistry demonstrated co-localization of citrullinated proteins and the PAD4 enzyme within the coronary artery plaque. In age-adjusted regression models, antibodies targeting cFb and cit-vimentin, but not CCP2, were associated with an increased aortic plaque burden. CONCLUSION: Citrullinated proteins are prevalent within the atherosclerotic plaque, and certain ACPAs are associated with atherosclerotic burden. These observations suggest that targeting of citrullinated epitopes, specifically cFb, within the atherosclerotic plaque could provide a mechanism for accelerated atherosclerosis observed in patients with RA. © 2013 American College of Rheumatology.
View details for DOI 10.1002/art.37961
View details for Web of Science ID 000322155000007