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J Immunol. 2000 Oct 1;165(7):3599-605.

Role of tolerogen conformation in induction of oral tolerance in experimental autoimmune myasthenia gravis.

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Department of Immunology, The Weizmann Institute of Science, Rehovot, Israel.


We recently demonstrated that oral or nasal administration of recombinant fragments of the acetylcholine receptor (AChR) prevents the induction of experimental autoimmune myasthenia gravis (EAMG) and suppresses ongoing EAMG in rats. We have now studied the role of spatial conformation of these recombinant fragments in determining their tolerogenicity. Two fragments corresponding to the extracellular domain of the human AChR alpha-subunit and differing in conformation were tested: Halpha1-205 expressed with no fusion partner and Halpha1-210 fused to thioredoxin (Trx), and designated Trx-Halpha1-210. The conformational similarity of the fragments to intact AChR was assessed by their reactivity with alpha-bungarotoxin and with anti-AChR mAbs, specific for conformation-dependent epitopes. Oral administration of the more native fragment, Trx-Halpha1-210, at the acute phase of disease led to exacerbation of EAMG, accompanied by an elevation of AChR-specific humoral and cellular reactivity, increased levels of Th1-type cytokines (IL-2, IL-12), decreased levels of Th2 (IL-10)- or Th3 (TGF-beta)-type cytokines, and higher expression of costimulatory factors (CD28, CTLA4, B7-1, B7-2, CD40L, and CD40). On the other hand, oral administration of the less native fragments Halpha1-205 or denatured Trx-Halpha1-210 suppressed ongoing EAMG and led to opposite changes in the immunological parameters. It thus seems that native conformation of AChR-derived fragments renders them immunogenic and immunopathogenic and therefore not suitable for treatment of myasthenia gravis. Conformation of tolerogens should therefore be given careful attention when considering oral tolerance for treatment of autoimmune diseases.

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