The enigma of sclera-specific autoimmunity in scleritis

Daphne P.C. Vergouwen*, Adriaan A. van Beek, Joeri de Hoog, Joke H. de Boer, Leonoor I. Los, Marlies Gijs, Roel J. Erckens, Rob M. Verdijk, Geert W. Haasnoot, Dave L. Roelen, Aniki Rothova, Johan Rönnelid, Josianne C. Ten Berge, Marco W.J. Schreurs

*Corresponding author for this work

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Scleritis is a severe and painful ophthalmic disorder, in which a pathogenic role for collagen-directed autoimmunity was repeatedly suggested. We evaluated the presence of sclera-specific antibodies in a large cohort of patients with non-infectious scleritis. Therefore, we prospectively collected serum samples from 121 patients with non-infectious scleritis in a multicenter cohort study in the Netherlands. In addition, healthy (n = 39) and uveitis controls (n = 48) were included. Serum samples were tested for anti-native human type II collagen antibodies using a validated enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). Further, sclera-specific antibodies were determined using indirect immunofluorescence (IIF) on primate retinal/scleral cryosections. Lastly, human leukocyte antigen (HLA) typing was performed in 111 patients with scleritis. Anti-type II collagen antibodies were found in 13% of scleritis patients, in 10% of healthy controls and in 11% of uveitis controls (p = 0.91). A specific reaction to scleral nerve tissue on IIF was observed in 33% of patients with scleritis, which was higher than in healthy controls (11%; p = 0.01), but similar to uveitis controls (25%; p = 0.36). Reactivity to the scleral nerve tissue was significantly associated with earlier onset of scleritis (48 versus 56 years; p < 0.001), bilateral involvement (65% versus 42%; p = 0.01), and less frequent development of scleral necrosis (5% versus 22%; p = 0.02). HLA-B27 was found to be twice as prevalent in patients with scleritis (15.3%) compared to a healthy population (7.2%). In conclusion, scleral nerve autoantibody reactivity was more common in scleritis and uveitis patients in contrast to healthy controls. Further research is needed to characterize these scleral-nerve directed antibodies and assess their clinical value.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103178
JournalJournal of Autoimmunity
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2024

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