Autoantibodies to a DNA-binding heterodimer consisting of 70,000 and 80,000 dalton subunits were identified in 30-50% of human autoimmune sera from patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), mixed connective tissue disease (MCTD), and scleroderma. Three murine monoclonal antibodies (mAb) against the heterodimer were produced in BALB/c mice by immunizing with isolated human B cell nuclei. By immunofluorescence, the mAb and autoimmune sera demonstrated both speckled nucleoplasmic staining and diffuse nucleolar staining in all human cell types examined. The nucleoplasmic staining was sensitive to DNase but not RNase pretreatment, while the nucleolar staining was sensitive to RNase but not DNase pretreatment. Biochemical characterization of the 70,000 and 80,000 dalton proteins using the mAb indicated that two forms of the antigen, with different mobilities on sucrose gradients, are present in human B cells. A 10 S form consists of the physically associated 70,000 and 80,000 dalton proteins, while a larger, 10-20 S form probably represents the same two proteins bound to DNA. Binding of the proteins to nucleolar RNA could not be confirmed in biochemical studies. These studies indicate that non-histone, DNA-binding proteins may be more frequently recognized by autoantibodies in SLE, MCTD, and scleroderma than has been previously recognized. Along with previous studies on RNA-binding proteins such as Sm, RNP, Ro, and La, the present findings suggest that nucleic acid-binding proteins, as a class, may be particularly frequent targets of autoimmunity in SLE and related disorders.

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