The ability of autoreactive T cells to provoke autoimmune disease is well documented. The finding that immunization with attenuated autoreactive T cells (T cell vaccination, or TCV) can induce T cell–dependent inhibition of autoimmune responses has opened the possibility that regulatory T cells may be harnessed to inhibit autoimmune disease. Progress in the clinical application of TCV, however, has been slow, in part because the underlying mechanism has remained clouded in uncertainty. We have investigated the molecular basis of TCV-induced disease resistance in two murine models of autoimmunity: herpes simplex virus-1 (KOS strain)–induced herpes stromal keratitis and murine autoimmune diabetes in non-obese diabetic (NOD) mice. We find that the therapeutic effects of TCV depend on activation of suppressive CD8 cells that specifically recognize Qa-1–bound peptides expressed by autoreactive CD4 cells. We clarify the molecular interaction between Qa-1 and self peptides that generates biologically active ligands capable of both inducing suppressive CD8 cells and targeting them to autoreactive CD4 cells. These studies suggest that vaccination with peptide-pulsed cells bearing the human equivalent of murine Qa-1 (HLA-E) may represent a convenient and effective clinical approach to cellular therapy of autoimmune disease.
Vily Panoutsakopoulou, Katharina M. Huster, Nami McCarty, Evan Feinberg, Rijian Wang, Kai W. Wucherpfennig, Harvey Cantor