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J Autoimmun. 1997 Dec;10(6):569-78.

Selection of self-reactive peptides within human aggrecan by use of a HLA-DRB1*0401 peptide binding motif.

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Department of Immunology, NV Organon, Oss, The Netherlands.


The pathogenesis of joint destruction in rheumatoid arthritis remains ill-defined. Joint destruction is thought to be the result of tissue damage mediated by T cells. The mere presence of articular cartilage appears responsible for sustaining chronic synovitis and thereby forwards a role for cartilage-responsive T cells in RA. Taking advantage of the positive DRB1*0401 association with RA susceptibility, we reasoned that T-cell recognition of autoantigens in RA would be restricted by DRB1*0401-encoded molecules. A DR4 (B1*0401) peptide binding motif was used for the identification of putative T-cell epitopes within human aggrecan, a candidate autoantigen. Thirteen peptides were synthesized and tested for binding DRB1*0401 or 0404-encoded molecules. Selected binders were tested for induction of proliferative responses in peripheral blood mononuclear cells from donors carrying the DR4 or DR1 specificity. Both healthy and RA donors responded to human aggrecan-derived peptides, thereby identifying these sequences as T-cell epitopes. Interestingly, responses to aggrecan-derived epitopes were significantly decreased in RA patients compared to controls. This was not due to an overall hyporesponsiveness of RA patients since responses to a recall antigen or mitogen did not differ from controls. The data suggest that in RA, aggrecan-specific T cells may exist in a different stage of activation or may have left the periphery to home to the joint.

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