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Soluble antigen arrays disarm antigen-specific B cells to promote lasting immune tolerance in experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis

Hartwell, BL;Pickens, CJ;Leon, M;Northrup, L;Christopher, MA;Griffin, JD;Martinez-Becerra, F;Berkland, C;

Autoreactive lymphocytes that escape central immune tolerance may be silenced via an endogenous peripheral tolerance mechanism known as anergy. Antigen-specific therapies capable of inducing anergy may restore patients with autoimmune diseases to a healthy phenotype while avoiding deleterious side effects associated with global immunosuppression. Inducing anergy in B cells may be a particularly potent intervention, as B cells can contribute to autoimmune diseases through multiple mechanisms and offer the potential for direct antigen-specific targeting through the B cell receptor (BCR). Our previous results suggested autoreactive B cells may be silenced by multivalent ‘soluble antigen arrays’ (SAgAs), which are polymer conjugates displaying multiple copies of autoantigen with or without a secondary peptide that blocks intracellular cell-adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM-1). Here, key therapeutic molecular properties of SAgAs were identified and linked to the immunological mechanism through comprehensive cellular and in vivo analyses. We determined non-hydrolyzable ‘cSAgAs’ displaying multivalent ‘click’-conjugated antigen more potently suppressed experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis (EAE) compared to hydrolyzable SAgAs capable of releasing conjugated antigen. cSAgAs restored a healthy phenotype in disease-specific antigen presenting cells (APCs) by inducing an anergic response in B cells and a subset of B cells called autoimmune-associated B cells (ABCs) that act as potent APCs in autoimmune disease. Accompanied by a cytokine response skewed towards a Th2/regulatory phenotype, this generated an environment of autoantigenic tolerance. By identifying key therapeutic molecular properties and an immunological mechanism that drives SAgA efficacy, this work guides the design of antigen-specific immunotherapies capable of inducing anergy. Copyright 2018 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.