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Rheumatoid arthritis: autoreactive T cells recognising a novel 68k autoantigen


OBJECTIVE A 68k autoantigen has been identified by specific antibodies from patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). This study considered whether or not this antigen is a target for T cells and thus may play a part in T cell mediated immunopathology of active RA.

METHODS The 68k antigen was isolated and used in a nitrocellulose bound form to stimulate T cells. Proliferation of T lymphocytes of peripheral blood as well as synovial fluid was measured.

RESULTS Peripheral blood T cells specifically proliferating against the 68k antigen were detected in 19 of 27 patients with RA (70%). For T cells isolated from peripheral blood, proliferation peaked on day 10. When T cells were isolated from actively inflamed synovial fluid, the proliferation kinetics shifted to a peak on day 3. Blockade of HLA class II antigens resulted in an increase of proliferation in the case of HLA-DP. Applying HLA-DP specific antibodies capable of inhibiting antigen presentation mediated by this molecule, T cells of 17 of 27 RA patients (63%) proliferated to a higher extent than with the 68k antigen alone. The phenomenon that an increased proliferation occurred upon blockade of a particular HLA class II family member was also demonstrated for DQ and DR: the 68k antigen likewise stimulated T cells restricted for DP or DQ, respectively.

CONCLUSIONS The novel 68k antigen is a target of both T and B cellular immune responses and as such could play a part in the immune dysfunction of RA. The finding that blocking of certain HLA class II molecules functioning in antigen presentation (for example, via HLA-DQ) results in a higher instead of lower proliferation in vitro, may argue for the presence of antigen specific suppressive T cells.

  • autoantigen
  • autoantibodies
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • autoreactive T cells.

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