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J Immunol. 2010 Dec 1;185(11):6448-60. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.1000889. Epub 2010 Oct 27.

Drug antigenicity, immunogenicity, and costimulatory signaling: evidence for formation of a functional antigen through immune cell metabolism.

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Department of Pharmacology, Medical Research Council Centre for Drug Safety Science, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, United Kingdom.


Recognition of drugs by immune cells is usually explained by the hapten model, which states that endogenous metabolites bind irreversibly to protein to stimulate immune cells. Synthetic metabolites interact directly with protein-generating antigenic determinants for T cells; however, experimental evidence relating intracellular metabolism in immune cells and the generation of physiologically relevant Ags to functional immune responses is lacking. The aim of this study was to develop an integrated approach using animal and human experimental systems to characterize sulfamethoxazole (SMX) metabolism-derived antigenic protein adduct formation in immune cells and define the relationship among adduct formation, cell death, costimulatory signaling, and stimulation of a T cell response. Formation of SMX-derived adducts in APCs was dose and time dependent, detectable at nontoxic concentrations, and dependent on drug-metabolizing enzyme activity. Adduct formation above a threshold induced necrotic cell death, dendritic cell costimulatory molecule expression, and cytokine secretion. APCs cultured with SMX for 16 h, the time needed for drug metabolism, stimulated T cells from sensitized mice and lymphocytes and T cell clones from allergic patients. Enzyme inhibition decreased SMX-derived protein adduct formation and the T cell response. Dendritic cells cultured with SMX and adoptively transferred to recipient mice initiated an immune response; however, T cells were stimulated with adducts derived from SMX metabolism in APCs, not the parent drug. This study shows that APCs metabolize SMX; subsequent protein binding generates a functional T cell Ag. Adduct formation above a threshold stimulates cell death, which provides a maturation signal for dendritic cells.

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