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B-lymphocyte stimulator/a proliferation-inducing ligand heterotrimers are elevated in the sera of patients with autoimmune disease and are neutralized by atacicept and B-cell maturation antigen-immunoglobulin

Stacey R Dillon1*, Brandon Harder1, Kenneth B Lewis1, Margaret D Moore1, Hong Liu1, Thomas R Bukowski1, Nels B Hamacher1, Megan M Lantry1, Mark Maurer1, Cecile M Krejsa1, Jeff L Ellsworth1, Susan Pederson1, Keith B Elkon2, Mark H Wener2, Maria Dall'Era3 and Jane A Gross1

Author Affiliations

1 Preclinical Research and Development, ZymoGenetics, Inc., 1201 Eastlake Ave East, Seattle, WA 98102, USA

2 Division of Rheumatology, School of Medicine, University of Washington, 1959 NE Pacific Street, Box 356428, Seattle, WA 98195-6428, USA

3 Division of Rheumatology, Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, 533 Parnassus Avenue, Box 0633, San Francisco, CA 94143-0633, USA

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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2010, 12:R48  doi:10.1186/ar2959

See related editorial by Stehl,

Published: 19 March 2010



B-lymphocyte stimulator (BLyS) and a proliferation-inducing ligand (APRIL) are members of the tumor necrosis factor (TNF) family that regulate B-cell maturation, survival, and function. They are overexpressed in a variety of autoimmune diseases and reportedly exist in vivo not only as homotrimers, but also as BLyS/APRIL heterotrimers.


A proprietary N-terminal trimerization domain was used to produce recombinant BLyS/APRIL heterotrimers. Heterotrimer biologic activity was compared with that of BLyS and APRIL in a 4-hour signaling assay by using transmembrane activator and CAML interactor (TACI)-transfected Jurkat cells and in a 4-day primary human B-cell proliferation assay. A bead-based immunoassay was developed to quantify native heterotrimers in human sera from healthy donors (n = 89) and patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE; n = 89) or rheumatoid arthritis (RA; n = 30). Heterotrimer levels were compared with BLyS and APRIL homotrimer levels in a subset of these samples.


The recombinant heterotrimers consisted mostly of one BLyS and two APRIL molecules. Heterotrimer signaling did not show any significant difference compared with APRIL in the TACI-Jurkat assay. Heterotrimers were less-potent inducers of B-cell proliferation than were homotrimeric BLyS or APRIL (EC50, nMol/L: BLyS, 0.02; APRIL, 0.17; heterotrimers, 4.06). The soluble receptor fusion proteins atacicept and B-cell maturation antigen (BCMA)-immunoglobulin (Ig) neutralized the activity of BLyS, APRIL, and heterotrimers in both cellular assays, whereas B-cell activating factor belonging to the TNF family receptor (BAFF-R)-Ig neutralized only the activity of BLyS. In human sera, significantly more patients with SLE had detectable BLyS (67% versus 18%; P < 0.0001), APRIL (38% versus 3%; P < 0.0002), and heterotrimer (27% versus 8%; P = 0.0013) levels compared with healthy donors. Significantly more patients with RA had detectable APRIL, but not BLyS or heterotrimer, levels compared with healthy donors (83% versus 3%; P < 0.0001). Heterotrimer levels weakly correlated with BLyS, but not APRIL, levels.


Recombinant BLyS/APRIL heterotrimers have biologic activity and are inhibited by atacicept and BCMA-Ig, but not by BAFF-R-Ig. A novel immunoassay demonstrated that native BLyS/APRIL heterotrimers, as well as BLyS and APRIL homotrimers, are elevated in patients with autoimmune diseases.