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Toxicology. 1995 Mar 31;97(1-3):199-224.

Molecular mimicry in halothane hepatitis: biochemical and structural characterization of lipoylated autoantigens.

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Department of Pharmacology, Biocenter of the University, Basel, Switzerland.


Exposure of human individuals to halothane causes, in about 20% of all cases, a mild transient form of hepatotoxicity. A small subset of exposed individuals, however, develops a potentially severe and life-threatening form of hepatic damage, coined halothane hepatitis. Halothane hepatitis is thought to have an immunological basis. Sera of afflicted individuals contain a wide variety of autoantibodies against hepatic proteins, in both trifluoroacetylated form (CF3CO-proteins) and, at least in part, in native form. CF3CO-proteins are elicited in the course of oxidative biotransformation of halothane, and include the trifluoroacetylated forms of protein disulfide isomerase, microsomal carboxylesterase, calreticulin, ERp72, GRP 78, and ERp99. Current evidence suggests that CF3CO-proteins arise in all halothane-exposed individuals; however, the vast majority of individuals appear to immunochemically tolerate CF3CO-proteins. The lack of immunological responsiveness of these individuals towards CF3CO-proteins might be due to tolerance, induced through the occurrence of structures in the repertoire of self-determinants, which immunochemically and structurally mimic CF3CO-proteins very closely. In fact, lipoic acid, the prosthetic group of the constitutively expressed E2 subunits of the family of mammalian 2-oxoacid dehydrogenase complexes and of protein X, was shown by immunochemical and molecular modelling analysis to be a perfect structural mimic of N6-trifluoroacetyl-L-lysine (CF3 CO-Lys), the major haptenic group of CF3CO-proteins. As a consequence of molecular mimicry, autoantibodies in patients' sera not only recognize CF3CO-proteins, but also the E2 subunit proteins of the 2-oxoacid dehydrogenase complexes and protein X, as autoantigens associated with halothane hepatitis. Furthermore, a fraction of patients with halothane hepatitis exhibit irregularities in the hepatic expression levels of these native, not trifluoroacetylated autoantigens. Collectively, these data suggest that molecular mimicry of CF3CO-Lys by lipoic acid, or the impairment thereof, might play a role in the susceptibility of individuals for the development of halothane hepatitis.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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