Systemic lupus erythematosus is a multisystem autoimmune disease in which the autoantibody response targets a variety of autoantigens of diverse subcellular location. We show here that these autoantigens are clustered in two distinct populations of blebs at the surface of apoptotic cells. The population of smaller blebs contains fragmented endoplasmic reticulum (ER) and ribosomes, as well as the ribonucleoprotein, Ro. The larger blebs (apoptotic bodies) contain nucleosomal DNA, Ro, La, and the small nuclear ribonucleoproteins. These autoantigen clusters have in common their proximity to the ER and nuclear membranes, sites of increased generation of reactive oxygen species in apoptotic cells. Oxidative modification at these sites may be a mechanism that unites this diverse group of molecules together as autoantigens.

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