The functional significance of epitope spreading and its regulation by co-stimulatory molecules

Carol L. Vanderlugt, Wendy Smith Begolka, Katherine L. Neville, Yael Katz-Levy, Laurence M. Howard, Todd N. Eagar, Jeffrey A. Bluestone, Stephen D. Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

155 Scopus citations


Epitope spreading is a process whereby epitopes distinct from and non-cross-reactive with an inducing epitope become major targets of an ongoing immune response. This phenomenon has been defined in experimental and natural situations as a consequence of acute or persistent infection and secondary to chronic tissue destruction that occurs during progressive autoimmune disease. We have investigated the functional significance of this process in the chronic stages of both autoimmune and virus-induced central nervous system (CNS) demyelinating disease models in the SJL/J mouse. During the relapsing-remitting course of experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (R-EAE) induced with defined encephalitogenic myelin peptides, CD4+ T cells specific for endogenous epitopes on both the initiating myelin protein (intramolecular epitope spreading) and distinct myelin proteins (intermolecular epitope spreading) are primed secondary to myelin destruction during acute disease and play a major functional role in mediating disease relapses. Similarly, epitope spreading to endogenous myelin epitopes appears to play a major functional role in the chronic-progressive course of Theiler's murine encephalomyelitis virus-induced demyelinating disease (TMEV-IDD), a virus-induced CD4+ T-cell-mediated immunopathology. In TMEV-IDD, myelin destruction is initiated by virus-specific CD4+ T cells which target virus epitopes persisting in CNS-derived antigen-presenting cells. However, the chronic stage of this progressive disease is associated with the activation of CD4+ T cells specific for multiple myelin epitopes. In both models, the temporal course of T-cell activation occurs in a hierarchical order of epitope dominance, spreading first to the most immunodominant epitope and progressing to lesser immunodominant epitopes. In addition, epitope spreading in R-EAE is regulated predominantly by CD28/B7-1 co-stimulatory interactions, as antagonism of B7-1-mediated co-stimulation using anti-B7-1 F(ab) fragments is an effective ameliorative therapy for ongoing disease. The process of epitope spreading has obvious important implications for the design of antigen-specific therapies for the treatment of autoimmune disease since these therapies will have to identify and target endogenous self epitopes associated with chronic tissue destruction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)63-72
Number of pages10
JournalImmunological Reviews
StatePublished - Aug 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Immunology


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