Phenotypic Drift in Lupus-Prone MRL/lpr Mice: Potential Roles of MicroRNAs and Gut Microbiota

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American Association of Immunologists

MRL/lpr mice have been extensively used as a murine model of lupus. Disease progression in MRL/lpr mice can differ among animal facilities, suggesting a role for environmental factors.We noted a phenotypic drift of our in-house colony, which was the progeny of mice obtained from The Jackson Laboratory (JAX; stocking number 000485), that involved attenuated glomerulonephritis, increased splenomegaly, and reduced lymphadenopathy. To validate our in-house mice as a model of lupus, we compared these mice with those newly obtained from JAX, which were confirmed to be genetically identical to our in-house mice. Surprisingly, the new JAX mice exhibited a similar phenotypic drift, most notably the attenuation of glomerulonephritis. Interestingly, our in-house colony differed from JAX mice in body weight and kidney size (both sexes), as well as in splenic size, germinal center formation, and level of anti-dsDNA auto-IgG in the circulation (male only). In addition, we noted differential expression of microRNA (miR)-21 and miR-183 that might explain the splenic differences in males. Furthermore, the composition of gut microbiota was different between in-house and new JAX mice at early time points, which might explain some of the renal differences (e.g., kidney size). However, we could not identify the reason for attenuated glomerulonephritis, a shared phenotypic drift between the two colonies. It is likely that this was due to certain changes of environmental factors present in both JAX and our facilities. Taken together, these results suggest a significant phenotypic drift in MRL/lpr mice in both colonies that may require strain recovery from cryopreservation.