An Arthritis-Suppressive and Treg Cell–Inducing CD4+ T Cell Epitope Is Functional in the Context of HLA-Restricted T Cell Responses

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We previously showed that mycobacterial Hsp70-derived peptide B29 induced B29-specific Treg cells that suppressed experimental arthritis in mice via cross-recognition of their mammalian Hsp70 homologs. The aim of the current study was to characterize B29 binding and specific CD4+ T cell responses in the context of human major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules.


Competitive binding assays were performed to examine binding of peptide B29 and its mammalian homologs to HLA molecules. The effect of B29 immunization in HLA–DQ8–transgenic mice with proteoglycan-induced arthritis was assessed, followed by ex vivo restimulation with B29 to examine the T cell response. Human peripheral blood mononuclear cells were used to investigate the presence of B29-specific T cells with immunoregulatory potential.


The binding affinity of the B29 peptide was high to moderate for multiple HLA–DR and HLA–DQ molecules, including those highly associated with rheumatoid arthritis. This binding was considered to be functional, because B29 immunization resulted in the suppression of arthritis and T cell responses in HLA–DQ8–transgenic mice. In humans, we demonstrated the presence and expansion of B29-specific CD4+ T cells, which were cross-reactive with the mammalian homologs. Using HLA–DR4+ tetramers specific for B29 or the mammalian homolog mB29b, we showed expansion of cross-reactive T cells, especially the human FoxP3+ CD4+CD25+ T cell population, after in vitro stimulation with B29.


These results demonstrated a conserved fine specificity and functionality of B29-induced Treg cell responses in the context of the human MHC. Based on these findings, a path for translation of the experimental findings for B29 into a clinical immunomodulatory therapeutic approach is within reach.

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