In the thirty years since the initial discovery of a striking association between HLA-B27 and susceptibility to ankylosing spondylitis, numerous hypotheses have been proposed to explain the role of this molecule in the pathogenesis of spondyloarthropathies. In the past few years the focus has shifted from one centered largely on the physiological peptide-presenting function of HLA-B27, to include ideas based on aberrant aspects of its immunobiology. This has been driven in part by results from animal models of HLA-B27-associated disease where CD8+ T cells do not appear to be playing a major role in pathogenesis. In addition, the HLA-B27 heavy chain is unusual in that it has a tendency to misfold in the endoplasmic reticulum and to form disulfide linked heavy chain dimers that can be expressed on the cell surface. Although the data suggest misfolding and cell surface dimerization are fundamentally different processes, it appears that certain structural features of the heavy chain are common to both. Potential links between these aberrant characteristics of HLA-B27 and inflammatory disease are discussed in this and other reviews in this issue. Herein we consider how protein misfolding affects cell function through the activation of an ‘unfolded protein response’ and / or an ‘ER overload response’, and the potential impact on the immune system. Despite significant advances in the treatment of spondyloarthropathies over the past few years, a better understanding of pathogenesis is likely to improve outcome by identifying ways to provide greater and more sustained clinical responses.
Keywords: Immunobiology, HLA-B27, hypotheses, endoplasmic
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