Objective: Antibodies against citrullinated type II collagen (Cit-CII) are common in the sera and synovial fluid of patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA); however, the known T cell epitope of CII is not dependent on citrullination. The aim of this study was to identify and functionally characterize the Cit-CII-restricted T cell epitopes that are relevant to RA.
Methods: Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from HLA-DRB1*10:01-positive patients with RA and healthy donors were stimulated in vitro with candidate CII peptides. CD154 up-regulation was measured as a marker of antigen-specific activation, and anti-HLA-DR-blocking experiments confirmed HLA restriction. Cytokine production was measured using a Luminex technique. Direct peptide-binding assays using HLA-DRB1*10:01 and HLA-DRB1*04:01 monomeric proteins were performed. The T cell receptor (TCR) β-chain of CD154-enriched antigen-specific T cells was analyzed using high-throughput sequencing.
Results: A novel Cit-CII peptide was identified based on its ability to activate CD4+ T cells from HLA-DRB1*10:01-positive individuals. When stimulated in vitro, Cit-CII autoreactive T cells produced proinflammatory cytokines. Cit-CII(311-325) bound (with low affinity) to HLA-DRB1*10:01 but not to HLA-DRB1*04:01, while the native form was unable to bind either protein. In addition, highly expanded clones were identified in the TCRβ repertoire of Cit-CII(311-325) -stimulated PBMCs.
Conclusion: These results illustrate the ability of the citrullination process to create T cell epitopes from CII, a cartilage-restricted protein that is relevant to RA pathogenesis. The exclusive binding of Cit-CII(311-325) to HLA-DRB1*10:01 suggests that recognition of citrullinated epitopes might vary between individuals carrying different RA-associated HLA-DR molecules.
© 2016, American College of Rheumatology.