Activated retina-specific T cells that have acquired the ability to break through the blood-retinal barrier are thought to be causally involved in autoimmune uveitis, a major cause of human blindness. It is unclear where these autoreactive T cells first become activated, given that their cognate antigens are sequestered within the immune-privileged eye. We demonstrate in a novel mouse model of spontaneous uveitis that activation of retina-specific T cells is dependent on gut commensal microbiota. Retina-specific T cell activation involved signaling through the autoreactive T cell receptor (TCR) in response to non-cognate antigen in the intestine and was independent of the endogenous retinal autoantigen. Our findings not only have implications for the etiology of human uveitis, but also raise the possibility that activation of autoreactive TCRs by commensal microbes might be a more common trigger of autoimmune diseases than is currently appreciated.
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