We examined the effect of glatiramer acetate, a random copolymer of alanine, lysine, glutamic acid, and tyrosine, on antigen-specific T-cell responses in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS). Glatiramer acetate (Copaxone) functioned as a universal antigen, inducing proliferation, independent of any prior exposure to the polymer, in T-cell lines prepared from MS or healthy subjects. However, for most patients, daily injections of glatiramer acetate abolished this T-cell response and promoted the secretion of IL-5 and IL-13, which are characteristic of Th2 cells. The surviving glatiramer acetate–reactive T cells exhibited a greater degree of degeneracy as measured by cross-reactive responses to combinatorial peptide libraries. Thus, it appears that, in some individuals, in vivo administration of glatiramer acetate induces highly cross-reactive T cells that secrete Th2 cytokines. To our knowledge, glatiramer acetate is the first agent that suppresses human autoimmune disease and alters immune function by engaging the T-cell receptor. This compound may be useful in a variety of autoimmune disorders in which immune deviation to a Th2 type of response is desirable.
Petra W. Duda, Mascha C. Schmied, Sandra L. Cook, Jeffrey I. Krieger, David A. Hafler
Characteristics of the study patients