We established six T cell clones specific for pyruvate dehydrogenase complex (PDC)-E2 peptides from four different patients with primary biliary cirrhosis using 33 different peptides of 17-20 amino acid residues corresponding to human PDC-E2 as stimulating antigens. The minimal T cell epitopes of these six T cell clones were all mapped to the same region of the PDC-E2 peptide 163-176 (GDLLAEIETDKATI), which corresponds to the inner lipoyl domain of PDCE2. The HLA restriction molecules for this epitope were all identified as HLA DRB4 0101. The common essential amino acids of this epitope for these T cell clones were E, D, and K at positions 170, 172, and 173, respectively; other crucial amino acids for this epitope differed in each T cell clone. In addition, the alanine-substituted peptides at positions 170 and 173, but not 172, inhibited the proliferation of all T cell clones induced by the original peptide of human PDC-E2 163-176, indicating that amino acid D at position 172 is a critical MHC-binding site for all T cell clones tested. Interestingly, all T cell clones reacted to PDC-E2 peptide 36-49 (GDLIAEVETDKATV), which corresponds to the outer lipoyl domain of human PDC-E2. Furthermore, one T cell clone cross-reacted with exogenous antigens such as Escherichia coli PDC-E2 peptide 31-44/134-147/235-248 (EQSLITVEGDKASM), which has an EXDK sequence. This is a definite demonstration of the presence of molecular mimicry at the T cell clonal level in human autoimmune diseases. It is also considered possible to design peptide-specific immunotherapy based on the findings of T cell autoepitopes in primary biliary cirrhosis.
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