Fine epitope mapping within the pathogenic thyroglobulin peptide 2340–2359: minimal epitopes retaining antigenicity across various MHC haplotypes are not necessarily immunogenic

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We have previously reported that the 20-mer peptide p2340 (amino acids 2340–2359), of human thyroglobulin (Tg) has the unique feature that it causes experimental autoimmune thyroiditis (EAT) in mouse strains bearing high-responder (HR) or low-responder (LR) MHC haplotypes in Tg-induced EAT. In this study, we have employed fine epitope mapping to examine whether this property of p2340 is the result of recognition of distinct or shared minimal T-cell epitopes in the context of HR or LR MHC class II molecules. Use of overlapping peptides showed that a core minimal 9-mer epitope (LTWVQTHIR, amino acids 2344–2352) was recognized by p2340-primed T cells from both HR (H2k,s) and LR (H2b,d) strains, whereas a second 9-mer epitope (HIRGFGGDP, amino acids 2350–2358) was antigenic only in H2s hosts. Truncation analysis of LTWVQTHIR and HIRGFGGDP peptides delineated them as the minimal epitopes recognized by p2340-primed T cells from the above strains. Subcutaneous challenge of all mouse strains with the 9-mer core peptide LTWVQTHIR in adjuvant elicited specific lymph node cell proliferative responses and mild EAT only in HR hosts, highlighting this sequence as a minimal pathogenic Tg peptide in EAT. The 9-mer peptide HIRGFGGDP was not found to be immunogenic in H2s hosts. These data demonstrate that minimal T-cell epitopes, defined as autoantigenic in hosts of various MHC haplotypes, are not intrinsically immunogenic. Activation of naive autoreactive T cells may require contributions from flanking residues within longer peptide sequences encompassing these epitopes.

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