Quantification of self-recognition in multiple sclerosis by single-cell analysis of cytokine production

J Immunol. 2000 Aug 1;165(3):1641-51. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.165.3.1641.


Identifying and quantifying autoaggressive responses in multiple sclerosis (MS) has been difficult in the past due to the low frequency of autoantigen-specific T cells, the high number of putative determinants on the autoantigens, and the different cytokine signatures of the autoreactive T cells. We used single-cell resolution enzyme-linked immunospot (ELISPOT) assays to study, directly ex vivo, proteolipid protein (PLP)-specific memory cell reactivity from MS patients and controls. Overlapping 9-aa-long peptides, spanning the entire PLP molecule in single amino acid steps, were used to determine the frequency and fine specificity of PLP-specific lymphocytes as measured by their IFN-gamma and IL-5 production. MS patients (n = 22) responded to 4 times as many PLP peptides as did healthy controls (n = 22). The epitopes recognized in individual patients, up to 22 peptides, were scattered throughout the PLP molecule, showing considerable heterogeneity among MS patients. Frequency measurements showed that the number of PLP peptide-specific IFN-gamma-producing cells averaged 11 times higher in MS patients than in controls. PLP peptide-induced IL-5-producing T cells occurred in very low frequencies in both MS patients and controls. This first comprehensive assessment of the anti-PLP-Th1/Th2 response in MS shows a greatly increased Th1 effector cell mass in MS patients. Moreover, the highly IFN-gamma-polarized, IL-5-negative cytokine profile of the PLP-reactive T cells suggests that these cells are committed Th1 cells. The essential absence of uncommitted Th0 cells producing both cytokines may explain why therapeutic strategies that aim at the induction of immune deviation show little efficacy in the established disease.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Autoantibodies / biosynthesis
  • Autoantigens / immunology
  • Autoantigens / metabolism*
  • Cytokines / biosynthesis*
  • Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay
  • Epitopes, T-Lymphocyte / immunology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunologic Memory / immunology
  • Interferon-gamma / biosynthesis
  • Lymphocyte Activation / immunology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mitogens / immunology
  • Multiple Sclerosis / immunology*
  • Multiple Sclerosis / metabolism*
  • Myelin Proteolipid Protein / immunology
  • Myelin Proteolipid Protein / isolation & purification
  • Peptide Fragments / immunology
  • Peptide Fragments / isolation & purification
  • Peptide Mapping
  • Th1 Cells / immunology
  • Th1 Cells / metabolism
  • Th2 Cells / immunology
  • Th2 Cells / metabolism


  • Autoantibodies
  • Autoantigens
  • Cytokines
  • Epitopes, T-Lymphocyte
  • Mitogens
  • Myelin Proteolipid Protein
  • Peptide Fragments
  • Interferon-gamma