Antinuclear antibodies are a hallmark feature of generalized autoimmune diseases, including systemic lupus erythematosus and systemic sclerosis. However, the processes underlying the loss of tolerance against nuclear self-constituents remain largely unresolved. Using mice deficient in lymphotoxin and Hox11, we report that approximately 25% of mice lacking secondary lymphoid organs spontaneously develop specific antinuclear antibodies. Interestingly, we find this phenotype is not caused by a defect in central tolerance. Rather, cell-specific deletion and in vivo lymphotoxin blockade link these systemic autoimmune responses to the formation of gut-associated lymphoid tissue in the neonatal period of life. We further demonstrate antinuclear antibody production is influenced by the presence of commensal gut flora, in particular increased colonization with segmented filamentous bacteria, and IL-17 receptor signaling. Together, these data indicate that neonatal colonization of gut microbiota influences generalized autoimmunity in adult life.

Antinuclear antibodies (ANA) are features of generalized autoimmune diseases. Here, we show that induction of ANA spontaneously occurs in mice lacking gut‐associated lymphoid tissues. This was caused by colonization of the intestine by segmented filamentous bacteria, which are potent inducers of Th17 responses. Microbiota and IL‐17R‐dependent mechanism of ANA induction embark in the neonatal phase of life, leading to systemic autoimmunity in adult.

  • ANA induction may occur in the absence of all secondary lymphoid organs, particularly gut‐associated lymphoid tissues
  • Spontaneous occurrence of ANA in the absence of lymphotoxin is RORγt and IL‐17R dependent.
  • Neonatal colonization of the intestine by segmented filamentous bacteria in the absence of gut‐associated lymphoid tissues predisposes for ANA induction in adult life