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Arthritis Rheum. 2003 Oct;48(10):2959-73.

Induction of arthritis in SCID mice by T cells specific for the "shared epitope" sequence in the G3 domain of human cartilage proteoglycan.

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Rush University at Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center, Chicago, Illinois, USA.



To study the immunologic function and determine the fine epitope structure of a synthetic peptide p135H ((2373)TTYKRRLQKRSSRHP) of the G3 domain of human cartilage proteoglycan (aggrecan), which contains a highly homologous sequence motif of the shared epitope (QKRAA), the most common sequence motif in HLA-DR4 alleles, which predispose humans to the development of rheumatoid arthritis (RA).


Synthetic p135 peptides with altered sequences were used for (hyper)immunization of arthritis-susceptible BALB/c mice and then challenged with a single dose of cartilage proteoglycan. Human p135 (p135H) and mouse p135 (p135M) synthetic peptides of the G3 domain of aggrecan were used to prime lymphocytes, which were then used for adoptive transfer of arthritis into "presensitized" SCID mice, determining cross-reactivity among p135 peptides and their analogous sequences, and generating T cell hybridomas. T cell hybridomas were also used for arthritis transfer into SCID mice and for characterizing the fine epitope structure of T cell receptor (TCR) and major histo-compatibility complex (MHC) binding sites of the immunogenic/arthritogenic p135H sequence.


While p135H peptide-(hyper)immunized mice became sensitized, they developed arthritis only after injection of a single dose of cartilage proteoglycan aggrecan. An altered peptide sequence (p135H-AA) carrying the shared epitope motif (QKRAA) was as effective as the natural peptide p135H sequence for inducing arthritis. Mouse p135M-specific lymphocytes induced arthritis with a lower incidence, but synthetic peptides to Escherichia coli heat-shock protein (DnaJ) or HLA-DR4 allele (both having the shared epitope sequence with different flanking regions) were also positive. Fine epitope sequence recognition of an arthritogenic T cell hybridoma derived from p135H-primed lymphocyte population was determined. Interestingly, in the most central position, a basic amino acid triplet of p135H peptide was found to be the MHC-binding motif, whereas the flanking amino acids bound to the TCR.


Peptide p135H, corresponding to the peptide sequence in the G3 domain of human cartilage proteoglycan aggrecan, is immunogenic/arthritogenic in BALB/c mice. Peptide p135H includes a highly homologous motif of the shared epitope, a sequence that is overrepresented in bacterial heat-shock proteins, envelope protein of human JC polyomavirus, and numerous HLA-DR4 alleles. Since the G3 domain of cartilage proteoglycan aggrecan with the p135 sequence is "lost" during the normal metabolic turnover of cartilage proteoglycan or in pathologic conditions, an antigenoriented T cell migration into joints of presensitized (susceptible) individuals may contribute to the organ-specificity of RA.

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