HLA-DRB1 allelic epitopes that associate with autoimmune disease risk or protection activate reciprocal macrophage polarization.

28 Jan 2021
van Drongelen V, Scavuzzi BM, Nogueira SV, Miller FW, Sawalha AH, Holoshitz J

Associations between particular human leukocyte antigen (HLA) alleles and susceptibility to-or protection from-autoimmune diseases have been long observed. Allele-specific antigen presentation (AP) has been widely proposed as a culprit, but it is unclear whether HLA molecules might also have non-AP, disease-modulating effects. Here we demonstrate differential macrophage activation by HLA-DRB1 alleles known to associate with autoimmune disease risk or protection with resultant polarization of pro-inflammatory ("M1") versus anti-inflammatory ("M2") macrophages, respectively. RNA-sequencing analyses of in vitro-polarized macrophages in the presence of AP-incompetent short synthetic peptides corresponding to the third allelic hypervariable regions coded by those two HLA-DRB1 alleles showed reciprocal activation of pro- versus anti-inflammatory transcriptomes, with implication of corresponding gene ontologies and upstream regulators. These results identify a previously unrecognized mechanism of differential immune modulation by short HLA-DRB1-coded allelic epitopes independent of AP, and could shed new light on the mechanistic basis of HLA-disease association.