In pemphigus vulgaris, a life-threatening autoimmune skin disease, epidermal blisters are caused by autoantibodies primarily targeting desmosomal cadherins desmoglein 3 (DSG3) and DSG1, leading to loss of keratinocyte cohesion. Due to limited insights into disease pathogenesis, current therapy relies primarily on nonspecific long-term immunosuppression. Both direct inhibition of DSG transinteraction and altered intracellular signaling by p38 MAPK likely contribute to the loss of cell adhesion. Here, we applied a tandem peptide (TP) consisting of 2 connected peptide sequences targeting the DSG adhesive interface that was capable of blocking autoantibody-mediated direct interference of DSG3 transinteraction, as revealed by atomic force microscopy and optical trapping. Importantly, TP abrogated autoantibody-mediated skin blistering in mice and was effective when applied topically. Mechanistically, TP inhibited both autoantibody-induced p38 MAPK activation and its association with DSG3, abrogated p38 MAPK-induced keratin filament retraction, and promoted desmosomal DSG3 oligomerization. These data indicate that p38 MAPK links autoantibody-mediated inhibition of DSG3 binding to skin blistering. By limiting loss of DSG3 transinteraction, p38 MAPK activation, and keratin filament retraction, which are hallmarks of pemphigus pathogenesis, TP may serve as a promising treatment option.
Volker Spindler, Vera Rötzer, Carina Dehner, Bettina Kempf, Martin Gliem, Mariya Radeva, Eva Hartlieb, Gregory S. Harms, Enno Schmidt, Jens Waschke