Objective: To characterize and clone T cells specific for type II collagen (CII) in a patient with relapsing polychondritis (RP) and to establish whether the immunodominant epitope of CII determined in HLA transgenic mice is used in the human autoimmune response to CII.
Methods: T cell responses to CII were examined in a patient with RP, who was heterozygous for the HLA-DR allele DRB1*0101/DRB1*0401. T cell clones were established from this patient and characterized for peptide specificity, class II restriction, cytokine production, and staining with HLA-DRB1*0401 class II tetramers.
Results: A response to CII and the peptide 255-273 was present in this patient. T cells specific for the CII epitope 261-273 were cloned. Evaluation of these clones demonstrated a response to CII 261-273 in the context of both DR alleles. HLA-DR4 CII tetramer did not demonstrate staining of either CII-specific DRB1*0401-restricted T cell clones or a polyclonal population of CII-reactive T cells from this individual.
Conclusion: T cells directed against CII were present in this patient with RP. Also, T cell clones isolated from this individual were found to be specific for the CII peptide 261-273 and were restricted to either the DRB1*0101 or the DRB1*0401 allele. These findings establish that a T cell response directed against CII is present in this patient with RP and that the CII peptide 261-273 plays a role in the human immune response to CII.