Objective: To identify epitopes on Escherichia coli heat-shock protein (HSP) dnaJ or on homologous human HSP dnaJ involved in the induction/modulation of autoimmune inflammation in patients with oligoarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA).
Methods: We used a proliferation assay and cytokine production to evaluate the immune responses of synovial fluid mononuclear cells (SFMCs) to pan-HLA-DR binder peptides derived from either homologous or nonhomologous regions on bacterial and human HSP dnaJ. Cytofluorometric analysis was performed in order to phenotype and sort Treg cells. Sorted cells were then analyzed for the expression of the forkhead box P3 (FoxP3) transcription factor, and their regulatory capacity was tested in coculture assays.
Results: T cell responses to E coli HSP dnaJ-derived peptides were eminently proinflammatory. Conversely, peptides derived from human HSP dnaJ induced interleukin-10 (IL-10) production from SFMCs of patients with oligoarticular JIA. A positive correlation was found between disease with a better prognosis (persistent oligoarticular JIA) and recognition of 3 human HSP dnaJ-derived peptides. The recognition of the human peptide H134-148 also induced a significantly greater amount of IL-10 in patients with persistent oligoarticular JIA than in those with extended oligoarticular JIA (P = 0.0012). Incubation of SFMCs from patients with persistent oligoarticular JIA with this human epitope increased the percentage of Treg cells and FoxP3 expression. It also induced the recovery of suppressor activity by Treg cells.
Conclusion: This is the first description of a self-regulating immune modulator circuit active during autoimmune inflammation through recognition of HSP epitopes with different functional properties. These epitopes induce T cells with regulatory function. Such induction correlates with disease severity and prognosis.