Lymphocytes from patients with insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (IDDM), a chronic autoimmune disease, have recently been shown to have decreased surface expression of MHC class I antigens. Since IDDM and other autoimmune diseases share a strong genetic association with MHC class II genes, which may in turn be linked to genes that affect MHC class I expression, we studied other autoimmune diseases to determine whether MHC class I expression is abnormal. Fresh PBLs were isolated from patients with IDDM, Hashimoto's thyroiditis, Graves' disease, systemic lupus erythematosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and Sjogren's syndrome. Nondiabetic and non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus patients served as controls. MHC class I expression was measured with a conformationally dependent monoclonal antibody, W6/32. Freshly prepared PBLs from the autoimmune diseases studied and the corresponding fresh EBV-transformed B cell lines had decreased MHC class I expression compared with PBLs from normal volunteers and non-insulin-dependent (nonautoimmune) diabetic patients. Only 3 of more than 180 donors without IDDM or other clinically recognized autoimmune disease had persistently decreased MHC class I expression; one patient was treated with immunosuppressive drugs, and subsequent screening of the other two patients revealed high titers of autoantibodies, revealing clinically occult autoimmunity. Patients with nonautoimmune inflammation (osteomyelitis or tuberculosis) had normal MHC class I expression. Autoimmune diseases are characterized by decreased expression of MHC class I on lymphocytes. MHC class I expression may be necessary for self-tolerance, and abnormalities in such expression may lead to autoimmunity.


Y Fu, D M Nathan, F Li, X Li, D L Faustman


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