CTLA-4 is a negative regulator of the immune response expressed by regulatory T (Treg) cells and activated T cells. Polymorphisms in the CTLA4 gene have been associated with autoimmune diseases, including systemic lupus erythematosus. Disease-associated polymorphisms have been shown to affect the production of the different CTLA-4 variants through an effect on alternative splicing. This study was undertaken to evaluate the role of the 1/4 CTLA-4 isoform in lupus-prone mice.
We generated an MRL/lpr mouse strain that transgenically overexpresses a short isoform of CTLA-4 (1/4 CTLA-4) by backcrossing C57BL/6.1/4CTLA-4–transgenic mice to the MRL/lpr strain for 9 generations. A new antibody was generated to detect the expression of the 1/4 CTLA-4 isoform. Routine methods were used to evaluate kidney damage, humoral immunity, and cellular immunity.
Expression of the 1/4 CTLA-4 isoform accelerated autoimmune disease. Transgenic mice died earlier, had more severe renal disease, and had higher titers of anti–double-stranded DNA antibodies than wild-type MRL/lpr mice. The acceleration of autoimmunity and disease pathology associated with the presence of the short (1/4) isoform of CTLA-4 was linked to increased numbers of activated T cells and B cells and heightened interferon-γ production, but not to altered expression of the full-length CTLA-4 molecule or Treg cell numbers.
Our results indicate that the presence of the alternatively spliced 1/4 CTLA-4 isoform can further promote autoimmunity and autoimmune pathology in lupus-prone mice and suggest that altered splicing of CTLA4 contributes to the expression of autoimmune disease.