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Research Article

Immunodominance of a low-affinity major histocompatibility complex-binding myelin basic protein epitope (residues 111-129) in HLA-DR4 (B1*0401) subjects is associated with a restricted T cell receptor repertoire.

P A Muraro, M Vergelli, M Kalbus, D E Banks, J W Nagle, L R Tranquill, G T Nepom, W E Biddison, H F McFarland and R Martin

Neuroimmunology Branch, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892-1400, USA.

Published July 15, 1997

The pathogenesis of multiple sclerosis (MS) is currently ascribed in part to a T cell-mediated process targeting myelin components. The T cell response to one candidate autoantigen, myelin basic protein (MBP), in the context of HLA-DR15Dw2, has been previously studied in detail. However, the characteristics of cellular immunity in the context of other MS-associated HLA-DR haplotypes are scarcely known. MBP-specific T cell lines (TCL) were generated from HLA-DR4 (B1*0401)-positive MS subjects. Out of 275 MBP-specific TCL, 178 (64. 7%) specifically recognized region MBP(111-129), predominantly in the context of DRB1*0401. The major T cell epitope for MBP recognition corresponded to residues MBP(116-123). These TCL expressed disparate profiles of cytokine secretion and cytotoxicity. T cell receptor analysis, on the other hand, revealed a strikingly limited heterogeneity of rearrangements. In contrast to MBP(81-99), which binds with high affinity to HLA-DR15 and is recognized by a diverse T cell repertoire, MBP(111-129) binds weakly to DRB1*0401, suggesting that only high affinity T cell receptors might be able to efficiently engage such unstable MHC/peptide complexes, thus accounting for the T cell receptor restriction we observed. This study provides new insight about MBP recognition and proposes an alternative mechanism for immunodominance of self-antigen T cell epitopes in humans.