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Br J Rheumatol. 1992 Nov;31(11):735-42.

The immune response to and expression of cross-reactive retroviral gag sequences in autoimmune disease.

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Division of Clinical Immunology, Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology, London.


To examine the immune response to retroviral gag sequences in autoimmune disease, we measured antibody levels to synthetic peptides representing the major epitopes on HTLV-1 p19 gag and a homologous sequence on the endogenous retrovirus, HRES-1, in sera from 121 patients with autoimmune disease and 52 healthy controls. In the absence of HTLV-1 antibodies, using a conventional diagnostic assay, significantly elevated levels of antibodies to the HTLV-1 peptide were found in 23% of multiple sclerosis and 20% of anti-Sm antibody positive systemic lupus erythematosus patients. Elevated antibody levels to HRES-1 were found in 32% of Sjögren's syndrome and 19% of multiple sclerosis patients. Evidence of reactivity with both HTLV-1 and HRES-1 was found in human sera and cross-reactivity demonstrated with affinity purified rabbit anti-peptide antibodies. Expression of HRES-1, detected by antibodies and Northern blots, was found in lymphoblastoid cells, salivary gland biopsy sections and salivary gland epithelial cells in culture. This study confirms previous reports of low levels of anti-retroviral gag antibodies in autoimmune disease. The cross-reactions support the concept that reports of elevated HTLV-1 antibodies may be due to an endogenous agent such as HRES-1. The expression of HRES-1 salivary gland may explain its antigenicity in a small proportion of Sjögren's syndrome patients as well as suggesting mechanisms whereby it may contribute to the chronic inflammation of autoimmune disease.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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