Nucleosome-specific T helper (Th) cells provide major histocompatibility complex class II-restricted, cognate help to nephritogenic antinuclear autoantibody-producing B cells in lupus. However, the lupus Th cells do not respond when components of the nucleosome, such as free DNA or histones, are individually presented by antigen-presenting cells. Thus critical peptide epitopes for the pathogenic Th cells are probably protected during uptake and processing of the native nucleosome particle as a whole. Therefore, herein we tested 145 overlapping peptides spanning all four core histones in the nucleosome. We localized three regions in core histones, one in H2B at amino acid position 10-33 (H2B10-33), and two in H4, at position 16-39 (H416-39) and position 71-94 (H471-94), that contained the peptide epitopes recognized by the pathogenic autoantibody-inducing Th cells of lupus. The peptide autoepitopes also triggered the pathogenic Th cells of (SWR x NZB)F1 lupus mice in vivo to induce the development of severe lupus nephritis. The nucleosomal autoepitopes stimulated the production of Th1- type cytokines, consistent with immunoglobulin IgG2a, IgG2b, and IgG3 being the isotypes of nephritogenic autoantibodies induced in the lupus mice. Interestingly, the Th cell epitopes overlapped with regions in histones that contain B cell epitopes targeted by autoantibodies, as well as the sites where histones contact with DNA in the nucleosome. Identification of the disease-relevant autoepitopes in nucleosomes will help in understanding how the pathogenic Th cells of spontaneous systemic lupus erythematosus emerge, and potentially lead to the development of peptide-based tolerogenic therapy for this major autoimmune disease.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Immunology and Allergy