Natural autoantibodies are primarily immunoglobulin M (IgM) antibodies that bind to a variety of self-antigens, including self-IgG. Accounting for a large proportion of the early B cell repertoire, such polyspecific autoantibodies are speculated to contribute to the homeostasis and/or competence of the primary humoral immune system. Recent studies indicate that the leukemia cells from most patients with chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL) also express such IgM autoantibodies. Similarly, the leukemia cells from many CLL patients react with murine monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) specific for crossreactive idiotypes (CRIs) associated with human IgM autoantibodies. In particular, leukemic cells frequently react with G6, a mAb specific for an Ig heavy chain (H chain)-associated CRI, and/or with 17.109, a mAb that defines a kappa light chain (L chain)-associated CRI. Generated against IgM rheumatoid factor (RF) paraproteins, G6 and 17.109 each recognize a major CRI that is present in many IgM RF paraproteins. Furthermore, over 90% of the IgM paraproteins found to bear both H and L chain-associated CRIs also are found to have RF activity. Molecular characterization of these CRIs demonstrates that each is a serologic marker for expression of a highly conserved Ig V gene. As such, the frequent production of IgM polyspecific autoantibodies in CLL simply may reflect the frequent use of such highly conserved autoantibody-encoding Ig V genes with little or no somatic mutation. To test this hypothesis, we generated murine transfectomas to pair the 17.109-reactive kappa L chain of SMI, a 17.109/G6-reactive CLL population, with the Ig H chain of SMI or other G6-reactive leukemia cells or tonsillar lymphocytes. Cotransfection of vectors encoding the Ig H and L chains of SMI generated transfectomas that produce IgM kappa RF autoantibodies reactive with human IgG1 and IgG4. In contrast to G6/17.109-reactive IgM kappa RF Waldenstrom's paraproteins, the SMI IgM kappa also reacts with several other self-antigens, including myoglobin, actin, and ssDNA. However, cotransfection of the SMI L chain with a vector encoding any one of 10 different G6-reactive Ig H chains generated transfectomas that produce IgM kappa antibodies without detectable polyspecific autoantibody activity. These results indicate that polyspecific antiself-reactivity of G6/17.019-reactive Ig is dependent on the somatically generated Ig third complementarity determining region. Collectively, these studies imply that selection may be responsible for the frequent expression of polyspecific autoantibodies in CLL and early B cell ontogeny.

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