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Brain. 2000 Mar;123 Pt 3:508-18.

Repertoire dynamics of autoreactive T cells in multiple sclerosis patients and healthy subjects: epitope spreading versus clonal persistence.

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Department of Neuroimmunology, Max Planck Institute for Neurobiology, Martinsried, Germany.


Autoantigen-specific T-lymphocytes are present in patients with autoimmune disease and in normal subjects. Little is currently known about the temporal variation (dynamics) of the immune repertoire of these autoreactive T cells. We analysed the long-term variation of the immune repertoire of T cells specific for myelin basic protein (MBP) in five untreated patients with multiple sclerosis and four normal control subjects over a mean observation period of 6 years. MBP-specific CD4(+) T-cell lines were selected with purified human MBP, and their epitope specificity was mapped with overlapping synthetic peptides. Three distinct patterns of repertoire development were observed. (i) Two patients and three control subjects maintained a broad epitope response with fluctuations over time. (ii) Two patients initially showed a focused response that broadened over the course of 6 years; this finding could be described as intramolecular epitope spreading. (iii) In one patient and one control subject, a strikingly focused response, which was directed to a cluster of nested epitopes in the MBP region 83-102, persisted over time. T-cell receptor Vbeta sequence analysis allowed us to trace individual clones of MBP-specific T cells for up to 7 years in the peripheral circulation in four of the five patients and three of the four controls, suggesting that the long-term persistence of MBP-specific T-cell clones is a common feature of the T-cell repertoire not unique to multiple sclerosis. The persisting MBP-specific T-cell clones were not detectable in the blood of one of the patients by complementarity-determining region (CDR)-3 spectratyping, indicating that their frequency does not exceed 1 in 5000 T cells. The temporal characteristics of the MBP-specific T-cell repertoire described here are relevant to therapeutic strategies targeting autoantigen-specific T cells in multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune diseases.

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