We investigated sera from elderly subjects with and without age-related macular degeneration (AMD) for presence of autoantibodies (AAbs) against human macular antigens and characterized their identity.Sera were collected from participants in the Age-Related Maculopathy Ancillary (ARMA) Study, a cross-sectional investigation ancillary to the Health ABC Study, enriched with participants from the general population. The resulting sample (mean age: 79.2±3.9 years old) included subjects with early to advanced AMD (n = 131) and controls (n = 231). Sera were tested by Western blots for immunoreactive bands against human donor macular tissue homogenates. Immunoreactive bands were identified and graded, and odds ratios (OR) calculated. Based on these findings, sera were immunoprecipitated, and subjected to 2D gel electrophoresis (GE). Liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS) was used to identify the targets recognized by circulating AAbs seen on 2D-GE, followed by ELISAs with recombinant proteins to confirm LC-MS/MS results, and quantify autoreactivities.In AMD, 11 immunoreactive bands were significantly more frequent and 13 were significantly stronger than in controls. Nine of the more frequent bands also showed stronger reactivity. OR estimates ranged between 4.06 and 1.93, and all clearly excluded the null value. Following immunoprecipitation, 2D-GE and LC-MS/MS, five of the possible autoreactivity targets were conclusively identified: two members of the heat shock protein 70 (HSP70) family, HSPA8 and HSPA9; another member of the HSP family, HSPB4, also known as alpha-crystallin A chain (CRYAA); Annexin A5 (ANXA5); and Protein S100-A9, also known as calgranulin B that, when complexed with S100A8, forms calprotectin. ELISA testing with recombinant proteins confirmed, on average, significantly higher reactivities against all targets in AMD samples compared to controls.Consistent with other evidence supporting the role of inflammation and the immune system in AMD pathogenesis, AAbs were identified in AMD sera, including early-stage disease. Identified targets may be mechanistically linked to AMD pathogenesis because the identified proteins are implicated in autophagy, immunomodulation, and protection from oxidative stress and apoptosis. In particular, a role in autophagy activation is shared by all five autoantigens, raising the possibility that the detected AAbs may play a role in AMD via autophagy compromise and downstream activation of the inflammasome. Thus, we propose that the detected AAbs provide further insight into AMD pathogenesis and have the potential to contribute to disease biogenesis and progression
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