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Open Access Research article

Characterization of inhibitory T cells induced by an analog of type II collagen in an HLA-DR1 humanized mouse model of autoimmune arthritis

Masaru Kimata1, David L Cullins1, Monica L Brown2, David D Brand13, Edward F Rosloniec13, Linda K Myers2*, John M Stuart13 and Andrew H Kang13

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Medicine, University of Tennessee Health Science Center, 956 Court Ave., Room G326, Memphis TN, 38163, USA

2 Department of Pediatrics, University of Tennessee Health Science Center, 956 Court Ave., Room G326, Memphis TN 38163, USA

3 Research Service, Veterans Affairs Medical Center, 1030 Jefferson Ave, Memphis TN 38104, USA

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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2012, 14:R107  doi:10.1186/ar3832

Published: 8 May 2012

Abstract

Introduction

We used DR1 transgenic mice and covalently linked DR1 multimers to characterize analog-specific inhibitory T cells in collagen-induced arthritis (CIA). Because of the low numbers of antigen-specific T cells in wild-type mice, functional T-cell studies in autoimmune arthritis have been challenging. The use of T-cell receptor (TCR) transgenic mice has provided useful information, but such T cells may not represent the heterogeneous T-cell response that occurs in natural settings. Our focus was to develop tools to identify and characterize the population of immunoregulatory T cells induced in wild-type mice by an analog peptide of CII259-273, which contains amino acid substitutions at positions 263 (N) and 266 (D) (analog peptide A12).

Methods

DR1 multimers, developed by loading empty class II molecules with exogenous peptide, provide a method for visualizing antigen-specific T cells with flow cytometry. However, the low binding avidity of A12 for the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) made this strategy untenable. To overcome this problem, we generated DR1 multimers in which the analog peptide A12 was covalently linked, hoping that the low-avidity analog would occupy enough binding clefts to allow detection of the responsive T cells.

Results

Staining with the tetramer revealed that A12-specific T cells were readily detectable at 10 days after immunization. These CD4(+) T cells are a highly selective subset of the TCR repertoire and have a limited clonality. Analysis of cytokine expression showed that cells detected by tetramer (A12) expressed primarily suppressive cytokines (interleukin-4 (IL-4) and IL-10) in response to collagen, compared with control cells. Although they did not express Fox-p3, they were extremely effective in preventing and suppressing inflammatory arthritis.

Conclusions

In summary, our studies showed that the use of covalently linked multimers allows characterization of analog-specific T cells that are otherwise difficult to detect. The suppressive character of the analog-specific T-cell response suggests that these cells attenuate autoimmunity and differ significantly in phenotype from the inflammatory T cells predominantly found in arthritic joints. Such reagents will become powerful tools to study T-cell responses in RA patients in upcoming clinical trials.