Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), although widely considered to be the most commonly occurring autoimmune disease, has only truly been substantiated as a distinct autoimmune disease very recently. The lack of understanding of the specific autoimmune system/s at work in rheumatoid patients resulted in an absence of robust diagnostic tools and had meant that the rational choice for use and design of therapy was based on broad-spectrum immunosuppression. The revelation that the autoimmune response specific for patients with RA is to particular protein antigens bearing the posttranslational modification ‘citrulline’ has therefore revolutionized diagnostics and has helped explain why patients carrying particular MHC alleles are predisposed to the disease. The last two decades have seen the characterization of citrullinated antigens targeted by both antibodies and T cells in rheumatoid patients. In more recent years, we have also witnessed the success of biological therapies in the treatment of RA that specifically target T cells and B cells. Ongoing mapping of antibody targets is increasing the percentage of patients who can be definitively diagnosed with, and prognosed to develop, RA. These advances have led to a great number of patents for citrullinated peptides that have been and may be, in the coming years, used in diagnostic test kits. More recently, characterization of T cell targets (citrullinated peptides) has resulted in the patenting of peptides that could be used in antigen specific therapy. This review focuses on the characterization of the autoimmune response to citrullinated protein targets in RA and how the community is translating this knowledge to improve diagnostics, prognostics and therapy.
Keywords: Rheumatoid arthritis, anti-CCP, antigen specific therapy, diagnostics, peptidyl arginine deiminase, citrulline, Citrullinated Proteins, inflammatory disease, Rheumatoid factor, ELISAs, Citrullinated Fibrinogen