Objectives Major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class II-mediated priming of T and B lymphocytes is a central element of autoimmunity in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and lupus nephritis. The cysteine protease cathepsin S degrades the invariant peptide chain during MHC II assembly with antigenic peptide in antigen-presenting cells; therefore, we hypothesised that cathepsin S inhibition would be therapeutic in SLE.
Methods We developed a highly specific small molecule, orally available, cathepsin S antagonist, RO5461111, with suitable pharmacodynamic and pharmacokinetic properties that efficiently suppressed antigen-specific T cell and B cell priming in vitro and in vivo.
Results When given to MRL-Fas(lpr) mice with SLE and lupus nephritis, RO5461111 significantly reduced the activation of spleen dendritic cells and the subsequent expansion and activation of CD4 T cells and CD4/CD8 double-negative T cells. Cathepsin S inhibition impaired the spatial organisation of germinal centres, suppressed follicular B cell maturation to plasma cells and Ig class switch. This reversed hypergammaglobulinemia and significantly suppressed the plasma levels of numerous IgG (but not IgM) autoantibodies below baseline, including anti-dsDNA. This effect was associated with less glomerular IgG deposits, which protected kidneys from lupus nephritis.
Conclusions Together, cathepsin S promotes SLE by driving MHC class II-mediated T and B cell priming, germinal centre formation and B cell maturation towards plasma cells. These afferent immune pathways can be specifically reversed with the cathepsin S antagonist RO5461111, which prevents lupus nephritis progression even when given after disease onset. This novel therapeutic strategy could correct a common pathomechanism of SLE and other immune complex-related autoimmune diseases.
- Autoimmune Diseases
- Systemic Lupus Erythematosus
- T Cells