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Arthritis Rheum. 2005 Jun;52(6):1885-96.

Class II major histocompatibility complex-peptide tetramer staining in relation to functional avidity and T cell receptor diversity in the mouse CD4(+) T cell response to a rheumatoid arthritis-associated antigen.

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University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, and National Jewish Medical and Research Center, Denver, Colorado 80262, USA.



Although studies have suggested that human cartilage (HC) gp-39 may be an antigen recognized by autoreactive CD4(+) T cells in rheumatoid arthritis, we previously failed to identify specific CD4(+) T cells in patients' synovial fluid or blood using a class II major histocompatibility complex-peptide tetramer composed of the immunodominant HC gp-39(263-275) epitope covalently linked to DR4. We undertook this study to better understand the parameters for specific binding of this tetramer.


DR4-transgenic mice were immunized with the HC gp-39 peptide, and a set of peptide-responsive hybridomas was derived. Hybridomas were stained with the DR4-gp-39 tetramer and cultured with increasing amounts of peptide in the presence of DR4-expressing antigen-presenting cells to determine functional avidity.


Great variability was apparent in the ability of the tetramer to stain the hybridomas, and there was a strong correlation between the intensity of tetramer staining and functional avidity. Importantly, nearly 30% of the hybridomas did not stain with tetramer, and these cells exhibited relatively low functional avidity. Although the addition of an anti-T cell receptor (anti-TCR) monoclonal antibody during the staining procedure enhanced binding of the tetramer to a number of the hybridomas, a significant percentage remained unstainable. Analysis of TCR expression showed that >90% of the hybridomas expressed the same TCR beta-chain variable region (V(beta)10), and sequencing of the TCR junctional regions showed diversity in the third complementarity-determining region.


These results suggest that immune responses dominated by relatively low-affinity TCR interactions, such as those that may occur in autoimmune disease, will be difficult to detect using standard tetramer techniques.

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