Objective: To identify a cartilage-derived autoantigen that is relevant to the rheumatoid arthritis (RA) disease process.
Methods: A DR4 (DRB1*0401) peptide binding motif was used for the selection of potential self reactive peptides within human cartilage glycoprotein-39 (HC gp-39), a protein that is differentially expressed at the site of chronic inflammation. Synthetic peptides accommodating the motif were tested for binding the RA-associated DR4 (DRB1*0401) molecules. High-affinity binders were then tested for their capacity to stimulate peripheral blood mononuclear cell responses in RA patients or healthy donors. To assess the arthritogenic nature of native HC gp-39, the protein was injected into BALB/c mice.
Results: HC gp-39-derived motif-based peptides were selectively recognized by peripheral blood T cells from RA patients. Injection of the intact protein into BALB/c mice resulted in immunity to HC gp-39, which was found to be associated with the development of a chronic, relapsing arthritis. Moreover, inhalation of the protein led to tolerization of antigen-specific T cells and to suppression of HC gp-39-induced arthritis.
Conclusion: These data indicate that HC gp-39 is a target of the immune response in RA. Consequently, HC gp-39 is a candidate for antigen-specific immunotherapy.