Ro52/Trim21 is targeted as an autoantigen in systemic lupus erythematosus and Sjögren's syndrome. Polymorphisms in the Ro52 gene have been linked to these autoimmune conditions, but the molecular mechanism by which Ro52 may promote development of systemic autoimmune diseases has not been explored. To address this issue, we generated Ro52-null mice (Ro52(-/-)), which appear phenotypically normal if left unmanipulated. However, Ro52(-/-) mice develop severe dermatitis extending from the site of tissue injury induced by ear tags. The affected mice further develop several signs of systemic lupus with hypergammaglobulinemia, autoantibodies to DNA, proteinuria, and kidney pathology. Ro52, which was recently identified as an E3 ligase, mediates ubiquitination of several members of the interferon regulatory factor (IRF) family, and the Ro52-deficient mice have an enhanced production of proinflammatory cytokines that are regulated by the IRF transcription factors, including cytokines involved in the Th17 pathway (interleukin [IL] 6, IL-12/IL-23p40, and IL-17). Loss of IL-23/IL-17 by genetic deletion of IL-23/p19 in the Ro52(-/-) mice conferred protection from skin disease and systemic autoimmunity. These data reveal that the lupus-associated Ro52 protein is an important negative regulator of proinflammatory cytokine production, and they provide a mechanism by which a defective Ro52 function can lead to tissue inflammation and systemic autoimmunity through the IL-23-Th17 pathway.
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