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Our immune system is a killing machine. It consists of various types of specialized cells and proteins that function to destroy invaders and “non-self” or mutated “self” proteins, such as those that come from virus78_RH image_optes, bacteria, and cancer cells. In the autoimmune diseases such as the P/P diseases, this mechanism has gone awry and the immune system actually attacks its own cells.

In P/P patients, antibodies generated by B cells of the immune system block the function of desmoglein proteins Dsg1 and Dsg3 known to be important in binding together keratinocytes of the skin and mucous membranes, but it is not known how the rogue antibodies are generated by the immune system, how they escape the quality control mechanisms in place that only allow B cells with non-“self” specificities to survive, and why P/P patients are so rare.

New research led by Dr. Aimee Payne in the Department of Dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania (Nature Communications, http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2014/140619/ncomms5167/abs/ncomms5167.html) helps us begin to understand why.

In previous work, Dr. Payne and colleagues have identified antibodies that recognize Dsg1 and Dsg3 (so-called anti-Dsg1 and anti-Dsg3 antibodies) and have also identified regions of those antibodies that are important for the ability of those antibodies to be pathogenic — that is, to recognize their Dsg targets in pemphigus vulgaris (PV) and pemphigus foliaceus (PF) and to disrupt their function. To extend this work and to better understand how PV autoantibodies arise, Dr. Payne and colleagues have performed a similar analysis of PV patients.

PV patients can present as either mucosal-dominant, where only the mucous membranes are affected or as mucocutaneous, affecting both the mucous membranes and the skin. Almost all mucosal-dominant PV patients have anti-Dsg3 autoantibodies, while the mucocutaneous patients have anti-Dsg3 autoantibodies as well as anti-Dsg1 autoantibodies. Since it is thought that Dsg1 and Dsg3 can compensate for each other’s function, the presence of functional Dsg1 in the skin in the presence of anti-Dsg3 autoantibodies can explain why mucosal-dominant patients do not have skin lesions.

The authors first isolated the full antibody repertoire from four different untreated PV patients, all with mucocutaneous disease. They isolated and characterized these in a multistep process that ultimately allowed them to determine the amino acid compositions (by cloning and DNA sequencing methods) of the patient’s PV antibodies. This led to the assignment of six unique antibodies from Patient 1 and five additional unique antibodies from the three other PV patients.

In total, the sequencing efforts identified 21 unique heavy chains among the four patients.

All 11 antibodies could bind to Dsg3 and this was mediated via a domain (called EC1) in Dsg3 that is known to be important for its adhesive interactions, suggesting that anti-Dsg3 autoantibody binding to Dsg3 leads to a direct block in Dsg3 function in keratinocytes (and subsequent skin blistering).

Curiously, not all of the antibodies that the authors identified that bound Dsg3 could cause blistering when added to human skin tissue samples; the VH1-46-containing antibodies did. They determined that these differences in functional effects were due to the inability of the nonpathogenic antibodies to bind to the functional domains of Dsg3.

Even more curiously, the authors found that all four patients had at least one PV antibody that consisted of an identical variable region termed VH1-46. They also found very little change in the VH1-46 amino acid sequence in the patient antibodies compared to the known sequence of VH1-46 that also exists in unaffected patients (considered the “wild-type” or germline sequence).

As noted by the authors, this is a pattern typical of a somatically mutated antibody sequence, meaning that very few changes were generated during the development of the B cells (each with its own single antibody that it makes, see Figure).

They did some additional experiments to define the ability of those amino acid changes to affect the binding to Dsg3. They conclude that VH1-46 autoantibodies in PV are generated during B cell development and require very little mutation to become pathogenic. This suggests that they appear early during the development of the disease and explains their prevalence in all of the patients tested here.

These autoantibodies may not be the most common later on (during full-blown disease), but they may provide a clue to why and how pemphigus arises. The ability of these autoantibodies to escape the quality control machinery at play during B cell development is likely due to the low levels of Dsg3 antigen available that would distinguish these antibodies as “self” antibodies and therefore the ability of the machinery to mark the cells and their rogue autoantibodies for destruction.

These data led the authors to speculate that the five pathogenic (disease-causing) VH1-46 anti-Dsg3 mAbs that they’ve identified in this study are among the earliest autoantibodies formed in PV patients, caused only by how simple they are to generate from germline sequences. They also define a mechanism for how these autoantibodies are made and most importantly, how they are missed by the quality control machinery – all low probability events that likely account for the rarity of PV.

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Will Zrnchik, IPPF CEO, along with former board member Dr. Sahana Vyas, kicked off the weekend late Friday afternoon. Will provided an overview of the weekend to come and emphasized the importance of community participation in the IPPF. Volunteerism, fundraising, and participation in programs are all ways everyone can show support.

Dr. Animesh Sinha (University of Buffalo) began with his session on pemphigus. He discussed the clinical features of the disease, and how the specific antibodies that attack the glue in your skin cells are formed, as well as what it looks like when the cells come unglued under a microscope. Dr. Sinha talked about the genetic markers for pemphigus and how the incidences are seen more often in certain groups of people than others. He gave newly diagnosed patients a really good picture of what it looks like to live with the disease. In closing, Dr. Sinha encouraged patients and their relatives to donate blood to further his research on the causes of pemphigus and to create better treatments.

Dr. Amit Shah (University of Buffalo) presented on the IPPF Registry and what the data tells us. Pemphigus and pemphigoid are rare diseases so having a registry helps promote better understanding of the diseases around the world. A primary goal of the study is to investigate different characteristics of patients enrolled. The registry shows gender prevalence, average age, and racial/genetic breakdowns are. The registry data tells us more women diagnosed, and the average age of onset is 40-60 years. The data indicates women have mucosal activity more than men, while men are more prone to skin lesions. These findings will help researchers and physicians expand their knowledge of the disease.

Dr. Razzaque Ahmed (Boston Blistering Disease Clinic) rounded out the evening with an overview of pemphigoid. He explained how pemphigoid was different from pemphigus by location and look of the blisters. He said mucous membrane pemphigoid (MMP) and cicatricial pemphigoid (CP) typically affect middle-aged (and older) individuals. He explained the differences between bullous pemphigoid (BP) & MMP stating with ocular MMP the trachea can also be affected. Dr. Ahmed emphasized that early diagnosis and treatment is essential, especially with MMP (individuals can lose their sight or breathing capacity due to scarring).

Sahana and Will opened Saturday’s session with a warm welcome and were followed by IPPF Board President, Dr. Badri Rengarajan. Badri began with the importance of the IPPF to people with P/P – newly diagnosed, in a flare, in remission, and everywhere in between. He told the audience the Foundation makes all its resources available to patients, caregivers, family members, and medical professionals free of charge. Knowing this, it is equally important for the Foundation going forward to continue to help others for years to come. Badri mentioned four ways the Foundation helps patients: improving quality of life; reducing diagnostic time; understanding and coping with flares; and supporting new diagnostic methods and research. The asked the audience to reach out to the Foundation when they need help and to support the Foundation to increase our services.

Dr. Sergei Grando (University of California – Irvine) discussed prednisone (what corticosteroids are commonly known as) and how steroids work. He mentioned side effects of steroids and affects on patients. He suggested the treatment process should be a team effort. Dr. Grando also spoke on adjuvant drugs (to reduce steroid doses) and the use of IVIg and an immunosuppressive to reduce disease activity.

Dr. Razzaque Ahmed returned to the stage for a talk on treatment side effects. He commented on how extreme cases of P/P can end up in burn units — not an appropriate treatment. Dr. Ahmed suggested a patient’s treating physicians should be told what drugs are being taken so treatment for additional problems is carefully coordinated. He talked about prednisone side effects and the importance of keeping track of them to share with your physician. He discussed side effects of immunosuppressives (such as Imuran®, CellCept®, and Cytoxan® and their link to cancer), IVIG, Rituxan®, and other treatments. At the end, Dr. Ahmed emphasized open communication with all a patient’s physicians to ensure the best possible care.

Did you know 13 million liters of plasma are collected each year, and the antibodies extracted from this plasma is what makes IVIG? Dr. Michael Rigas (KabaFusion) explained this, and more in his talk. He told the audience how the drug is made, where it comes from, and why it costs what it does. Dr. Rigas then explained how it is administered to a patient, and what patients should expect after the infusion. He said IVIG as a P/P treatment is not approved by the United States FDA. He closed by saying there are many factors to be considered before a patient gets IVIG and to talk with your doctor if you have questions.

Dr. Grant Anhalt (Johns Hopkins University) presented on the physiology of PV. He explained how and why the cells detach from one another. He said many currently-prescribed anti-inflammatory drugs do nothing to inhibit antibody production. He provided a recap of Imuran®, CellCept®, IVIG, and rituximab and how they work on P/P. He has found rituximab has been very successful in the treatment of PV without the side effects commonly found in cancer drugs. Dr. Anhalt described how rituximab destroys maturing B-cells for 6-9 months and how results of several studies showed the success of rituximab in early stages of PV.

Victoria Carlan (IPPF Board member and founder of the Canadian Pemphigus & Pemphigoid Foundation) talked about personal support networks. She opened with her personal PV journey explaining the importance of her support network, and how she used it to live successfully with P/P. This enabled her to find answers and find encouragement. She explained how support networks can build-up physical, mental and emotional strengths.

IPPF Awareness Program Manager Kate Frantz talked about the IPPF’s Awareness Campaign. Building awareness in the medical community is important to reducing diagnostic time for patients. She said we can all help with awareness in our won ways. One way is becoming an Awareness Ambassador in your community. Awareness Ambassadors will go into their community to spread P/P awareness. Others ca write to newspapers, speak at professional gatherings, and engage others in your community. She stressed the importance of spreading awareness through social media to help create a “brand” others can relate to the IPPF and P/P.

One of the IPPF Awareness Campaign’s Patient Educators, Rebecca Strong, discussed additional ways to spread awareness. People can write to their federal, state, and local representatives encouraging them to be involved with improving your health and supporting legislation that benefits all of us. Be your own advocate and ask those you know who might be able to help advocate for you. There really truth to the Power of One.

Dr. Firdaus Dhabhar (Stanford University) presented on stress & autoimmunity. Dr. Dhabhar discussed the biological responses that happen with stress are not always negative, but can be positive. Short-term, acute stresses (such as surgery, vaccinations, etc.) can enhance positive immune response. However, chronic, long-term stresses have negative effects on the body. With long-term stresses, the goal is to minimize their effects with better sleep, nutrition, exercise, calming activities, or whatever works for you.

On Sunday, the patients took center stage for a patient panel discussion. Our panelists included IPPF Senior Peer Health Coach Marc Yale (MMP/OCP), Becky Strong (PV), Peer Health Coach Mei Ling Moore (PV), IPPF Board member Rebecca Oling (PV), and Janet Segall (PV). Questions covered personal best practices, dealing with side effects, and product recommendations.

This successful segment was followed up with a 90-minute teleconference in May 2014 where over 80 people registered with 40 people on the call at any given time.

Following the patient panel, the IPPF hosted several workshops. These smaller, focused sessions were on topics such as different stress reduction methods, diet and nutrition, oral care, ocular concerns, IVIG, and reimbursement issues. There was also a successful focus group centered on the Awareness Campaign.

Once the workshops concluded, attendees gathered back in the main room for a Q&A with some of the weekend’s speakers. Questions were asked, debated, and answered by experts from different specialties.

Will and Badri reminded everyone we all can be involved in making sure newly diagnosed patients get the help they need by participating in IPPF programs and donating to our cause. And during his closing remarks, Will announced the 2015 Patient Conference will be in New York, and information will flow as it is available.

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Background:  Pemphigus vulgaris (PV) and pemphigus foliaceus (PF) are potentially fatal blistering diseases caused by autoantibodies targeting desmoglein adhesion proteins. Previous studies have shown an IgG4>IgG1 predominance of anti-desmoglein antibodies in pemphigus; however, no studies have examined total serum IgG4 levels in pemphigus. IgG4 is induced by chronic antigen stimulation, which could occur with persistent skin blistering and potentially elevate the total serum IgG4 relative to other IgG subclasses in pemphigus patients. Objectives:  The primary aim of the study was to quantitate total and desmoglein-specific IgG subclasses in pemphigus patients. Methods:  IgG subclasses and desmoglein-specific IgG1 and IgG4 were quantitated in PV, PF, and age-matched normal sera using a subclass ELISA. The effectiveness of IgG4 depletion in blocking PV IgG pathogenicity was determined using a keratinocyte dissociation assay. Results:  Desmoglein-specific antibodies comprised a median of 7.1% and 4.2% of total IgG4 in PV and PF patients, with 8-fold and 4-fold enrichment in IgG4 versus IgG1. Total serum IgG4, but not other IgG subclasses, was enriched in PV and PF patients compared to age-matched controls (p=0.004 and p=0.005, respectively). IgG4 depletion of PV sera reduced pathogenicity in a keratinocyte dissociation assay and showed that affinity-purified IgG4 is more pathogenic than other serum IgG fractions. Conclusions:  Desmoglein-specific autoantibodies are significantly enriched in IgG4, which may explain the enrichment of total serum IgG4 in some pemphigus patients. By preferentially targeting autoimmune rather than beneficial immune antibodies, IgG4-targeted therapies may offer safer treatment options for pemphigus.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22803659?dopt=Abstract