Natural killer cells and type II interferon in Ro/SSA and La/SSB autoantibody-exposed newborns at risk of congenital heart block.

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Congenital heart block (CHB) with immune cell infiltration develops in the fetus after exposure to maternal Ro/La autoantibodies. CHB-related serology has been extensively studied, but reports on immune-cell profiles of anti-Ro/La-exposed neonates are lacking. In the current study, we characterised circulating immune-cell populations in anti-Ro/La+mothers and newborns, and explored potential downstream effects of skewed neonatal cell populations.In total, blood from mothers (n=43) and neonates (n=66) was sampled at birth from anti-Ro/La+ (n=36) and control (n=30) pregnancies with or without rheumatic disease and CHB. Flow cytometry, microarrays and ELISA were used for characterising cells and plasma.Similar to non-pregnant systemic lupus erythematosus and Sjögren-patients, anti-Ro/La+mothers had altered B-cell subset frequencies, relative T-cell lymphopenia and lower natural killer (NK)-cell frequencies. Surprisingly, their anti-Ro/La exposed neonates presented higher frequencies of CD56dimCD16hi NK cells (p<0.01), but no other cell frequency differences compared with controls. Type I and II interferon (IFN) gene-signatures were revealed in neonates of anti-Ro/La+ pregnancy, and exposure of fetal cardiomyocytes to type I IFN induced upregulation of several NK-cell chemoattractants and activating ligands. Intracellular flow cytometry revealed IFNγ production by NK cells, CD8+ and CD4+ T cells in anti-Ro/La exposed neonates. IFNγ was also detectable in their plasma.Our study demonstrates an increased frequency of NK cells in anti-Ro/La exposed neonates, footprints of type I and II IFN and an upregulation of ligands activating NK cells in fetal cardiac cells after type I IFN exposure. These novel observations demonstrate innate immune activation in neonates of anti-Ro/La+pregnancy, which could contribute to the risk of CHB.

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