Mechanisms in Graves Eye Disease: Apoptosis as the End Point of Insulin-Like Growth Factor 1 Receptor Inhibition

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Background: Graves' eye disease, also called Graves' orbitopathy (GO), is a potentially debilitating autoimmune disease associated with retro-orbital inflammation and tissue expansion, involving both fibroblasts and adipocytes, resulting in periorbital edema, worsening proptosis, and muscle dysfunction with diplopia and may ultimately threaten sight. Accumulating evidence has indicated that autoantibodies to the thyrotropin receptor (TSHR), which induce the hyperthyroidism of Graves' disease, also help mediate the pathogenesis of the eye disease in susceptible individuals through TSHR expression on retro-orbital cells. Since it has long been known that the effects of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) and thyrotropin are additive, recent clinical trials with a human monoclonal IGF-1 receptor blocking antibody (teprotumumab; IGF-1R-B-monoclonal antibody [mAb]) have demonstrated its ability to induce significant reductions in proptosis, diplopia, and clinical activity scores in patients with GO. However, the molecular mechanisms by which such an antibody achieves this result is unclear. Methods: We have used Li-Cor In-Cell Western, Western blot, and immunohistochemistry to define levels of different proteins in mouse and human fibroblast cells. Proteomic array was also used to define pathway signaling molecules. Using CCK-8 and BrdU cell proliferation ELISA, we have analyzed proliferative response of these cells to different antibodies. Results: We now show that a stimulating TSHR antibody was able to induce phosphorylation of the IGF-1R and initiate both TSHR and IGF-1R signaling in mouse and human fibroblasts. IGF-1R-B-mAb (1H7) inhibited all major IGF-1R signaling cascades and also reduced TSHR signaling. This resulted in the antibody-induced suppression of autophagy as shown by inhibition of multiple autophagy-related proteins (Beclin1, LC3a, LC3b, p62, and ULK1) and the induction of cell death by apoptosis as evidenced by activation of cleaved caspase 3, FADD, and caspase 8. Furthermore, this IGF-1R-blocking mAb suppressed serum-induced perkin and pink mitophagic proteins. Conclusions: Our observations clearly indicated that stimulating TSHR antibodies were able to enhance IGF-1R activity and contribute to retro-orbital cellular proliferation and inflammation. In contrast, an IGF-1R-B-mAb was capable of suppressing IGF-1R signaling leading to retro-orbital fibroblast/adipocyte death through the cell-extrinsic pathway of apoptosis. This is likely the major mechanism involved in proptosis reduction in patients with Graves' eye disease treated by IGF-1R inhibition.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)429-439
Number of pages11
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2022


  • Graves' orbitopathy
  • IGF-1R
  • TSHR antibody
  • teprotumumab


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