Epigenetic Modulation of Class-Switch DNA Recombination to IgA by miR-146a Through Downregulation of Smad2, Smad3 and Smad4

Paolo Casali, Shili Li, Grecia Morales, Cassidy C. Daw, Daniel P. Chupp, Amanda D. Fisher, Hong Zan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


IgA is the predominant antibody isotype at intestinal mucosae, where it plays a critical role in homeostasis and provides a first line of immune protection. Dysregulation of IgA production, however, can contribute to immunopathology, particularly in kidneys in which IgA deposition can cause nephropathy. Class-switch DNA recombination (CSR) to IgA is directed by TGF-β signaling, which activates Smad2 and Smad3. Activated Smad2/Smad3 dimers are recruited together with Smad4 to the IgH α locus Iα promoter to activate germline Iα-Cα transcription, the first step in the unfolding of CSR to IgA. Epigenetic factors, such as non-coding RNAs, particularly microRNAs, have been shown to regulate T cells, dendritic cells and other immune elements, as well as modulate the antibody response, including CSR, in a B cell-intrinsic fashion. Here we showed that the most abundant miRNA in resting B cells, miR-146a targets Smad2, Smad3 and Smad4 mRNA 3’UTRs and keeps CSR to IgA in check in resting B cells. Indeed, enforced miR-146a expression in B cells aborted induction of IgA CSR by decreasing Smad levels. By contrast, upon induction of CSR to IgA, as directed by TGF-β, B cells downregulated miR-146a, thereby reversing the silencing of Smad2, Smad3 and Smad4, which, once expressed, led to recruitment of Smad2, Smad3 and Smad4 to the Iα promoter for activation of germline Iα-Cα transcription. Deletion of miR-146a in miR-146a–/– mice significantly increased circulating levels of steady state total IgA, but not IgM, IgG or IgE, and heightened the specific IgA antibody response to OVA. In miR-146a–/– mice, the elevated systemic IgA levels were associated with increased IgA+ B cells in intestinal mucosae, increased amounts of fecal free and bacteria-bound IgA as well as kidney IgA deposition, a hallmark of IgA nephropathy. Increased germline Iα-Cα transcription and CSR to IgA in miR-146a –/– B cells in vitro proved that miR-146a-induced Smad2, Smad3 and Smad4 repression is B cell intrinsic. The B cell-intrinsic role of miR-146a in the modulation of CSR to IgA was formally confirmed in vivo by construction and OVA immunization of mixed bone marrow μMT/miR-146a–/– chimeric mice. Thus, by inhibiting Smad2, Smad3 and Smad4 expression, miR-146a plays an important and B cell intrinsic role in modulation of CSR to IgA and the IgA antibody response.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number761450
JournalFrontiers in immunology
StatePublished - Nov 16 2021


  • AID
  • B cell
  • IgA
  • Smad2/Smad3/Smad4
  • class switch DNA recombination (CSR)
  • epigenetics
  • miR-146a
  • microRNA

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


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