ABSTRACT: Intracellular protein complexes containing nucleic acids are common targets of autoantibodies in many autoimmune diseases. Central tolerance to these antigens is incomplete, yet nucleosomal DNA is expressed on the surface of cells dying by apoptosis. It is commonly believed that autoimmunity is prevented by the rapid uptake of apoptotic cells (ACs) by neighbors or professional phagocytes to which they deliver anti-inflammatory signals. Self-reactive, innate-like B cells contact and are selected by intracellular antigens expressed on ACs; however, how self-tolerance is maintained is not well understood. Here we report that IL-10 production by B cells, stimulated by contact with ACs, results from the engagement of Toll-like receptor 9 (TLR9) within the B cell after recognition of DNA-containing complexes on the surface of ACs. Until now, TLR9 ligation has been considered an inflammatory signal, but we have confirmed a hitherto unexpected immunoregulatory role by demonstrating the absence of the protective effect of ACs during experimental autoimmune encephalitis (EAE) in TLR9-deficient mice. Human circulating CD27(+) B cells also respond to DNA-bearing ACs, but not to DNase-treated cells, by secreting IL-10. Chronic autoimmune disease may arise if this tolerance mechanism is not reimposed after episodes of inflammation, or if the regulatory B-cell response is subverted.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 12/2011; 109(3):887-92. · 9.68 Impact Factor