A hallmark of SLE is the production of high-titer, high-affinity, isotype-switched IgG autoantibodies directed against nucleic acid–associated antigens. Several studies have established a role for both type I IFN (IFN-I) and the activation of TLRs by nucleic acid–associated autoantigens in the pathogenesis of this disease. Here, we demonstrate that 2 IFN-I signaling molecules, IFN regulatory factor 9 (IRF9) and STAT1, were required for the production of IgG autoantibodies in the pristane-induced mouse model of SLE. In addition, levels of IgM autoantibodies were increased in pristane-treated Irf9–/– mice, suggesting that IRF9 plays a role in isotype switching in response to self antigens. Upregulation of TLR7 by IFN-α was greatly reduced in Irf9–/– and Stat1–/– B cells. Irf9–/– B cells were incapable of being activated through TLR7, and Stat1–/– B cells were impaired in activation through both TLR7 and TLR9. These data may reveal a novel role for IFN-I signaling molecules in both TLR-specific B cell responses and production of IgG autoantibodies directed against nucleic acid–associated autoantigens. Our results suggest that IFN-I is upstream of TLR signaling in the activation of autoreactive B cells in SLE.
Donna L. Thibault, Alvina D. Chu, Kareem L. Graham, Imelda Balboni, Lowen Y. Lee, Cassidy Kohlmoos, Angela Landrigan, John P. Higgins, Robert Tibshirani, Paul J. Utz