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Sera from patients with primary Sjögren Syndrome (pSS) or Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) often contain autoantibodies directed against La/SSB. The sequence 349–368aa represents the major B-cell epitope of La/SSB, also it contains, at position 366, a serine aminoacid residue which constitutes the main phosphorylation site of the protein. In this study we investigated the differential recognition of the 349–368aa epitope and its phosphorylated form by antibodies found in sera from patients with systemic autoimmune diseases. Peptides corresponding to the sequence of the unphosphorylated (pep349–368aa) and the phosphorylated form (pep349–368aaPh) of the La/SSB epitope 349–368aa, as well as to a truncated form spanning the sequence 349– 364aa and lacking the phosphorylation site (pep349–364aa), were synthesized. Sera from 53 patients with pSS and SLE with anti-La/SSB specificity, 30 patients with pSS and SLE without anti-La/SSB antibodies, 25 patients with rheumatoid arthritis and 32 healthy individuals were investigated by ELISA experiments. Autoantibodies to pep349–368aaPh were detected in sera of anti-La/SSB positive patients with a higher prevalence compared to the pep349–368aa (66% versus 45%). Pep349–368aaPh inhibited the antibody binding almost completely (92%), while pep349–368aa inhibited the binding only partially (45%). Anti-La/SSB antibodies presented a higher relative avidity for the phosphorylated than the unphosphorylated peptide. Immunoadsorbent experiments using the truncated peptide pep349–364aa indicated that the flowthrough showed a selective specificity for pep349–368aaPh, while the eluted antibodies reacted with both peptide analogues of the La/SSB epitope. These data suggest that sera from pSS and SLE patients with anti-La/SSB reactivity possess autoantibodies that bind more frequently and with a higher avidity to the phosphorylated major B-cell epitope of the molecule.
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