Journal Of Neuroimmunology
Altered peptide ligands (APLs) have routinely been studied in clonal populations of Th cells that express a single T cell receptor (TCR), but results generated in this manner poorly predict the effects of APLs on polyclonal Th cells in vivo, contributing to the failure of phase II clinical trials of APLs in autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis (MS). We have used a panel of APLs derived from an encephalitogenic epitope of myelin proteolipid protein to investigate the relationship between antigen cross-reactivity in a polyclonal environment, encephalitogenicity, and the capacity of an APL to provide protection against experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) in SJL mice. In general, polyclonal Th cell lines specific for encephalitogenic APLs cross-reacted with other encephalitogenic APLs, but not with non-encephalitogenic APLs, and vice versa. This, alongside analysis of TCR V usage, suggested that encephalitogenic and non-encephalitogenic subgroups of APLs expand largely non-cross-reactive Th cell populations. As an exception to the rule, one non-encephalitogenic APL, L188, induced proliferation in polyclonal CD4+ T cells specific for the native encephalitogen, with minimal induction of cytokine production. Co-immunization of L188 alongside the native encephalitogen slightly enhanced disease development. In contrast, another APL, A188, which induced IL-10 production without proliferation in CD4+ T cells specific for the native encephalitogen, was able to protect against development of EAE in a dose-dependent fashion when co-immunized alongside the native encephalitogen. These results suggest that testing against polyclonal Th cell lines in vitro may be an effective strategy for distinguishing between potentially therapeutic and non-therapeutic APLs.