Background: As T-cell receptor-major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I/self peptide interaction regulates T-cell development in the thymus, we reasoned that presentation of peptides by self dendritic cells (DC) to developing T cells in the thymus might induce acquired thymic tolerance. This hypothesis is based on the finding that intrathymic injection of allopeptides in the adult animal induces acquired tolerance. To examine this hypothesis, we studied the effects of intrathymic (IT) injection of a single immunodominant Wistar-Furth (WF) MHC class I (RT1.Au) peptide-pulsed host DC on islet allograft survival in the WF-to-ACI rat combination.
Methods: Bone marrow-derived ACI DC expressing MHC class I and II, OX62, and ED2 present allopeptides to naive and specifically peptide-primed syngeneic T cells in mixed lymphocyte reaction. Host DC pulsed with RT1.Au peptide 5 (residues 93-109) were injected into the thymus of streptozotocin-induced diabetic ACI that were transplanted 7 days later with donor-type (WF) or third-party (Brown Norway [BN]) islets.
Results: Whereas IT injection of 300 microg of peptide 5 alone led to normoglycemia and permanent islet survival in three of six diabetic ACI recipients, similar treatment combined with simultaneous intraperitoneal injection of 0.5 ml of anti-lymphocyte serum (ALS) on day -7 led to 100% permanent islet allograft survival (>200 days) compared to a mean survival time of 15.0+/-2.3 days in controls treated with ALS alone. In contrast, similarly prepared animals rejected the third-party (BN) islets in an acute fashion. To address the question of indirect allorecognition in acquired thymic tolerance, we examined the effect of peptide-pulsed host DC on graft survival. Whereas IT injection of peptide-pulsed host DC alone resulted in permanent islet survival in two of five animals, IT injection of peptide-pulsed host DC combined with 0.5 ml of ALS induced 100% donor-specific permanent islet allograft survival in the WF-to-ACI rat combination. These results suggest that thymic DC take up, process, and present the administered peptide to the developing T cells by the indirect allorecognition pathway in the induction of acquired thymic tolerance.
Conclusion: We have demonstrated a novel approach to inducing transplant tolerance to islet allografts with IT injection of allopeptide-pulsed host DC. This finding suggests that immunization strategies using DC expressing MHC allopeptides or peptide analogue might be potentially useful in the treatment of autoimmune diabetes mellitus.