Open Access Open Badges Research article

Plasma cells within granulomatous inflammation display signs pointing to autoreactivity and destruction in granulomatosis with polyangiitis

Antje Mueller12*, Christoph Brieske12, Susanne Schinke12, Elena Csernok12, Wolfgang L Gross12, Katrin Hasselbacher3, Jan Voswinkel4 and Konstanze Holl-Ulrich5

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Rheumatology, University of Luebeck, Luebeck, Germany

2 Department of Rheumatology & Clinical Immunology, Medical Center Bad Bramstedt, Bad Bramstedt, Germany

3 Department of Otorhinolaryngology, University of Luebeck, Luebeck, Germany

4 Department of Hematology, University Hospital Saint Antoine & University Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris, France

5 Institute of Pathology, University of Luebeck, Luebeck, Germany

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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2014, 16:R55  doi:10.1186/ar4490

Published: 20 February 2014



Plasma cells residing in inflamed tissues produce antibodies in chronic inflammatory and systemic autoimmune diseases. This study examined if plasma cells, located within inflamed nasal tissue in granulomatosis with polyangiitis (GPA), express features potentially associated with the autoimmune and destructive character of this disease.


Ig gene mutation patterns of individual tissue-derived plasma cells from GPA (n = 5) were analyzed, by using laser-assisted microdissection followed by semi-nested polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Signs of B-lymphocyte maturation (ectopic lymphoid structures, ELS) and survival (a proliferation-inducing ligand, APRIL; B-cell maturation antigen, BCMA; transmembrane-activator and calcium modulator and cyclophilin interactor, TACI; receptor activator of nuclear factor κB ligand, RANKL) were examined in nasal tissues or serum, respectively, by using immunohistochemistry/fluorescence and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, ELISA.


Plasma-cell derived Ig genes (light- and heavy-chain pairs, n = 4; heavy chains, n = 33) resembled mutation patterns seen in other autoimmune diseases, predominantly displaying selection against replacement mutations within the framework region of Ig genes (10 of 15), which is responsible for structural integrity. Ectopic lymphoid structures were similar between GPA and a disease control (that is, unspecific chronic rhinosinusitis. However, histomorphologic features distinguishing GPA from rhinosinusitis (that is, neutrophilic microabscess and granuloma) expressed considerable amounts of membrane-associated and secreted APRIL, respectively. The latter was co-localized with CD138 and found in close proximity to cells expressing IgG, TACI, and BCMA. Interestingly, plasma cells strongly expressed receptor activator of nuclear factor κB ligand (RANKL), apart from fibroblast-like cells.


Plasma cells within granulomatous inflammation appear to display features that might be required for autoreactivity and, possibly, RANKL-mediated destruction in GPA.