One of the main strategies of neutrophils in responding to microbial infections is the formation of neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs). NETs are web-like structures of decondensed chromatin associated with antimicrobial proteins. Citrullination plays an important role during NET formation and a substantial fraction of NET-associated proteins appeared to be citrullinated. The release of citrullinated intracellular proteins from netting neutrophils led to the hypothesis that the production of anti-citrullinated protein autoantibodies by autoimmune patients, in particular patients with rheumatoid arthritis, might be initiated when citrullinated NET components are not properly cleared and are exposed to the immune system. Here, we discuss the processes that lead to NET formation, including the role of peptidylarginine deiminase activation and our current knowledge on citrullinated NET-associated proteins. Citrulline-dependent epitopes do not appear to play a major role in the recognition of NETs by autoantibodies from rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus patients, even though anti-NET autoantibodies are frequently observed in sera from these patients. The neutrophil proteases associated with NETs have a major impact on the integrity of NET-associated proteins when NET formation is induced by activating isolated human neutrophils. Cleavage/degradation of these proteins also resulted in a strong reduction of the reactivity with autoantibodies. This article is part of the Theo Murphy meeting issue 'The virtues and vices of protein citrullination'.

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