T cell responses to natural human proteins in primary biliary cirrhosis

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The study of T cell responses to autoantigens in human autoimmunity has been hampered by difficulties, firstly in identifying significant autoantigens, and secondly in the purification of authentic human proteins in sufficient quantities to allow characterization of antigen-specific T cell responses. In this study we have purified a human autoantigen, pyruvate dehydrogenase, retaining its enzymatic activity, and characterized autoreactive T cell responses to it in a human autoimmune disease, primary biliary cirrhosis. T cell responses to a mixture of the E2 and protein X subunits of human pyruvate dehydrogenase complex are seen in most affected patients, but in only a small minority of normal and chronic liver disease controls. By contrast, responses to whole pyruvate dehydrogenase complex occur with equal frequency in both groups. This suggests that responses to the E2 component/protein X of pyruvate dehydrogenase complex play a role in the pathogenesis of primary biliary cirrhosis. The availability of significant quantities of the human autoantigen in primary biliary cirrhosis makes this condition an interesting model in which to study true autoreactive human T cell responses.

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