Binding of anti-cell surface pemphigus autoantibodies to cultured human epidermal cells stimulates synthesis and secretion of plasminogen activator (PA). Increases in PA activity were detected within 6 h of the addition of IgG and stimulation was dependent upon IgG concentration. Stimulation of PA activity was inhibited by cycloheximide, which indicates that synthesis of protein was necessary. Pharmacological doses of dexamethasone also prevented IgG-induced stimulation of PA. Electrophoretic profiles of PA secreted by cultured human epidermal cells in the presence or absence of pemphigus IgG were similar. The majority of the PA activity comigrated with the higher-molecular-weight species of human urokinase (approximately 55,000). Explants of normal human skin incubated with pemphigus vulgaris IgG displayed loss of epidermal cohesion similar to that observed in patient biopsies. The histologic changes were potentiated by the inclusion of human plasminogen. Loss of epidermal cohesion in normal skin explants incubated with pemphigus foliaceous IgG was dependent upon the addition of plasminogen and was inhibited by aprotinin or lima bean trypsin inhibitor, which indicated that plasmin is the active enzyme in producing acantholysis. These data support the hypothesis that stimulation of PA by the anti-cell surface autoantibodies of pemphigus results in a localized increase in plasmin, which through proteolysis produces the loss of epidermal cohesion characteristic of pemphigus.

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