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1.  Epigenetics of Autoantigens: New Opportunities for Therapy of Autoimmune Diseases 
Genetics & Epigenetics  2013;5:63-70.
The field of epigenetics requires that traditional divisions between scientific disciplines give way to cross-fertilization of concepts and ideas from different areas of investigation. Such is the case with research in autoimmunity. Recent discoveries of stimuli that induce autoimmunity reveal that epigenetic marks of autoantigens are recognized by autoreactive B and T cell receptors. Thus, insights into the initiation of autoimmunity, its prevention and therapy will arise from understanding the biochemistry, cell biology and microbiology of autoantigen epigenetics. Here, we highlight potential benefits from the inhibition of a histone modifying enzyme and the administration of a phosphorylated, spliceosome-derived peptide, in the treatment of autoimmunity.
PMCID: PMC4222337  PMID: 25512708
Lupus; autoimmunity; post-translational modifications; deimination; phosphorylation; clinical trial; neutrophil extracellular traps; histones; spliceosome; U1-70; Lupuzor
2.  Early Differentiated CD138highMHCII+IgG+ Plasma Cells Express CXCR3 and Localize into Inflamed Kidneys of Lupus Mice 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(3):e58140.
Humoral responses are central to the development of chronic autoimmune diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus. Indeed, autoantibody deposition is responsible for tissue damage, the kidneys being one of the main target organs. As the source of pathogenic antibodies, plasma cells are therefore critical players in this harmful scenario, both at systemic and local levels. The aim of the present study was to analyze plasma cells in NZB/W lupus mice and to get a better understanding of the mechanisms underlying their involvement in the renal inflammation process. Using various techniques (i.e. flow cytometry, quantitative PCR, ELISpot), we identified and extensively characterized three plasma cell intermediates, according to their B220/CD138/MHCII expression levels. Each of these cell subsets displays specific proliferation and antibody secretion capacities. Moreover, we evidenced that the inflammation-related CXCR3 chemokine receptor is uniquely expressed by CD138highMHCII+ plasma cells, which encompass both short- and long-lived cells and mostly produce IgG (auto)antibodies. Expression of CXCR3 allows efficient chemotactic responsiveness of these cells to cognate chemokines, which production is up-regulated in the kidneys of diseased NZB/W mice. Finally, using fluorescence and electron microscopy, we demonstrated the presence of CD138+CXCR3+IgG+ cells in inflammatory areas in the kidneys, where they are very likely involved in the injury process. Thus, early differentiated CD138highMHCII+ rather than terminally differentiated CD138highMHCIIlow plasma cells may be involved in the renal inflammatory injury in lupus, due to CXCR3 expression and IgG secretion.
PMCID: PMC3592892  PMID: 23520491
3.  Single Insulin-Specific CD8+ T Cells Show Characteristic Gene Expression Profiles in Human Type 1 Diabetes 
Diabetes  2011;60(12):3289-3299.
Both the early steps and the high recurrence of autoimmunity once the disease is established are unexplained in human type 1 diabetes. Because CD8+ T cells are central and insulin is a key autoantigen in the disease process, our objective was to characterize HLA class I–restricted autoreactive CD8+ T cells specific for preproinsulin (PPI) in recent-onset and long-standing type 1 diabetic patients and healthy control subjects.
We used HLA-A*02:01 tetramers complexed to PPI peptides to enumerate circulating PPI-specific CD8+ T cells in patients and characterize them using membrane markers and single-cell PCR.
Most autoreactive CD8+ T cells detected in recent-onset type 1 diabetic patients are specific for leader sequence peptides, notably PPI6–14, whereas CD8+ T cells in long-standing patients recognize the B-chain peptide PPI33–42 (B9–18). Both CD8+ T-cell specificities are predominantly naïve, central, and effector memory cells, and their gene expression profile differs from cytomegalovirus-specific CD8+ T cells. PPI6–14–specific CD8+ T cells detected in one healthy control displayed Il-10 mRNA expression, which was not observed in diabetic patients.
PPI-specific CD8+ T cells in type 1 diabetic patients include central memory and target different epitopes in new-onset versus long-standing disease. Our data support the hypothesis that insulin therapy may contribute to the expansion of autoreactive CD8+ T cells in the long term.
PMCID: PMC3219929  PMID: 21998398
4.  TLR2 ligation protects effector T cells from regulatory T-cell mediated suppression and repolarizes T helper responses following MVA-based cancer immunotherapy 
Oncoimmunology  2012;1(8):1271-1280.
Cancer immunotherapy is hampered by the immunosuppression maintained by regulatory T cells (Tregs) in tumor-bearing hosts. Stimulation of the Toll-like receptor 2 (TLR2) by Pam3Cys is known to affect Treg-mediated suppression. We found that Pam3Cys increases the proliferation of both CD4+ effector T cells (Teffs) and Tregs co-cultured in vitro, but did not induce the proliferation of Tregs alone upon CD3 and CD28 stimulation. In a mouse model of RMA-MUC1 tumors, Pam3Cys was administered either alone or in combination with a modified vaccinia ankara (MVA)-based mucin 1 (MUC1) therapeutic vaccine. The combination of Pam3Cys with MVA-MUC1 (1) diminished splenic Treg/CD4+ T-cell ratios to those found in tumor-free mice, (2) stimulated a specific anti-MUC1 interferon γ (IFNγ) response and (3) had a significant therapeutic effect on tumor growth and mouse survival. When CD4+ Teffs and Tregs were isolated from Pam3Cys-treated mice, Teffs had become resistant to Treg-mediated suppression while upregulating the expression of BclL-xL. Tregs from Pam3Cys-treated mice were fully suppressive for Teffs from naïve mice. Bcl-xL was induced by Pam3Cys with different kinetics in Tregs and Teffs. Teff from Pam3Cys-treated mice produced increased levels of Th1 and Th2-type cytokines and an interleukin (IL)-6-dependent secretion of IL-17 was observed in Teff:Treg co-cultures, suggesting that TLR2 stimulation had skewed the immune response toward a Th17 profile. Our results show for the first time that in a tumor-bearing host, TLR2 stimulation with Pam3Cys affects both Tregs and Teffs, protects Teff from Treg-mediated suppression and has strong therapeutic effects when combined with an MVA-based antitumor vaccine.
PMCID: PMC3518499  PMID: 23243590
Treg; TLR2; Pam3Cys; cancer; immunotherapy; Th17
5.  Macroautophagy is deregulated in murine and human lupus T lymphocytes 
Autophagy  2012;8(7):1113-1123.
Macroautophagy was recently shown to regulate both lymphocyte biology and innate immunity. In this study we sought to determine whether a deregulation of autophagy was linked to the development of autoimmunity. Genome-wide association studies have pointed out nucleotide polymorphisms that can be associated with systemic lupus erythematosus, but the potential role of autophagy in the initiation and/or development of this syndrome is still unknown. Here, we provide first clues of macroautophagy deregulation in lupus. By the use of LC3 conversion assays and electron microscopy experiments, we observed that T cells from two distinct lupus-prone mouse models, i.e., MRLlpr/lpr and (NZB/NZW)F1, exhibit high loads of autophagic compartments compared with nonpathologic control CBA/J and BALB/c mice. Unlike normal mice, autophagy increases with age in murine lupus. In vivo lipopolysaccharide stimulation in CBA/J control mice efficiently activates T lymphocytes but fails to upregulate formation of autophagic compartments in these cells. This argues against a deregulation of autophagy in lupus T cells solely resulting from an acute inflammation injury. Autophagic vacuoles quantified by electron microscopy are also found to be significantly more frequent in T cells from lupus patients compared with healthy controls and patients with non-lupus autoimmune diseases. This elevated number of autophagic structures is not distributed homogeneously and appears to be more pronounced in certain T cells. These results suggest that autophagy could regulate the survival of autoreactive T cell during lupus, and could thus lead to design new therapeutic options for lupus.
PMCID: PMC3429547  PMID: 22522825
systemic lupus erythematosus; lupus-prone mice; macroautophagy; T lymphocytes
6.  Disease Progression in MRL/lpr Lupus-Prone Mice Is Reduced by NCS 613, a Specific Cyclic Nucleotide Phosphodiesterase Type 4 (PDE4) Inhibitor 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(1):e28899.
Systemic lupus erythematosus is a polymorphic and multigenic inflammatory autoimmune disease. Cyclic AMP (cAMP) modulates inflammation and the inhibition of cyclic nucleotide phosphodiesterase type 4 (PDE4), which specifically hydrolyzes cAMP, inhibits TNFα secretion. This study was aimed at investigating the evolution of PDE activity and expression levels during the course of the disease in MRL/lpr lupus-prone mice, and to evaluate in these mice the biological and clinical effects of treatments with pentoxifylline, denbufylline and NCS 613 PDE inhibitors. This study reveals that compared to CBA/J control mice, kidney PDE4 activity of MRL/lpr mice increases with the disease progression. Furthermore, it showed that the most potent and selective PDE4 inhibitor NCS 613 is also the most effective molecule in decreasing proteinuria and increasing survival rate of MRL/lpr mice. NCS 613 is a potent inhibitor, which is more selective for the PDE4C subtype (IC50 = 1.4 nM) than the other subtypes (PDE4A, IC50 = 44 nM; PDE4B, IC50 = 48 nM; and PDE4D, IC50 = 14 nM). Interestingly, its affinity for the High Affinity Rolipram Binding Site is relatively low (Ki = 148 nM) in comparison to rolipram (Ki = 3 nM). Finally, as also observed using MRL/lpr peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBLs), NCS 613 inhibits basal and LPS-induced TNFα secretion from PBLs of lupus patients, suggesting a therapeutic potential of NCS 613 in systemic lupus. This study reveals that PDE4 represent a potential therapeutic target in lupus disease.
PMCID: PMC3256138  PMID: 22247763
7.  HSC70 blockade by the therapeutic peptide P140 affects autophagic processes and endogenous MHCII presentation in murine lupus 
Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases  2010;70(5):837-843.
The P140 phosphopeptide issued from the spliceosomal U1-70K small nuclear ribonucleoprotein protein displays protective properties in MRL/lpr lupus-prone mice. It binds both major histocompatibility class II (MHCII) and HSC70/Hsp73 molecules. P140 peptide increases MRL/lpr peripheral blood lymphocyte apoptosis and decreases autoepitope recognition by T cells.
To explore further the mode of action of P140 peptide on HSC70+ antigen-presenting cells.
P140 biodistribution was monitored in real time using an imaging system and by fluorescence and electron microscopy. Fluorescence activated cell sorting and Western blotting experiments were used to evaluate the P140 effects on autophagic flux markers.
P140 fluorescence accumulated especially in the lungs and spleen. P140 peptide reduced the number of peripheral and splenic T and B cells without affecting these cells in normal mice. Remaining MRL/lpr B cells responded normally to mitogens. P140 peptide decreased the expression levels of HSC70/Hsp73 chaperone and stable MHCII dimers, which are both increased in MRL/lpr splenic B cells. It impaired refolding properties of chaperone HSC70. In MRL/lpr B cells, it increased the accumulation of the autophagy markers p62/SQSTM1 and LC3-II, consistent with a downregulated lysosomal degradation during autophagic flux.
The study results suggest that after P140 peptide binding to HSC70, the endogenous (auto)antigen processing might be greatly affected in MRL/lpr antigen-presenting B cells, leading to the observed decrease of autoreactive T-cell priming and signalling via a mechanism involving a lysosomal degradation pathway. This unexpected mechanism might explain the beneficial effect of P140 peptide in treated MRL/lpr mice.
PMCID: PMC3070272  PMID: 21173017
8.  Direct Visualization of Peptide/MHC Complexes at the Surface and in the Intracellular Compartments of Cells Infected In Vivo by Leishmania major 
PLoS Pathogens  2010;6(10):e1001154.
Protozoa and bacteria infect various types of phagocytic cells including macrophages, monocytes, dendritic cells and eosinophils. However, it is not clear which of these cells process and present microbial antigens in vivo and in which cellular compartments parasite peptides are loaded onto Major Histocompatibility Complex molecules. To address these issues, we have infected susceptible BALB/c (H-2d) mice with a recombinant Leishmania major parasite expressing a fluorescent tracer. To directly visualize the antigen presenting cells that present parasite-derived peptides to CD4+ T cells, we have generated a monoclonal antibody that reacts to an antigenic peptide derived from the parasite LACK antigen bound to I-Ad Major Histocompatibility Complex class II molecule. Immunogold electron microscopic analysis of in vivo infected cells showed that intracellular I-Ad/LACK complexes were present in the membrane of amastigote-containing phagosomes in dendritic cells, eosinophils and macrophages/monocytes. In both dendritic cells and macrophages, these complexes were also present in smaller vesicles that did not contain amastigote. The presence of I-Ad/LACK complexes at the surface of dendritic cells, but neither on the plasma membrane of macrophages nor eosinophils was independently confirmed by flow cytometry and by incubating sorted phagocytes with highly sensitive LACK-specific hybridomas. Altogether, our results suggest that peptides derived from Leishmania proteins are loaded onto Major Histocompatibility Complex class II molecules in the phagosomes of infected phagocytes. Although these complexes are transported to the cell surface in dendritic cells, therefore allowing the stimulation of parasite-specific CD4+ T cells, this does not occur in other phagocytic cells. To our knowledge, this is the first study in which Major Histocompatibility Complex class II molecules bound to peptides derived from a parasite protein have been visualized within and at the surface of cells that were infected in vivo.
Author Summary
Phagocytosis is a cellular process that allows the engulfment of solid particles such as bacteria or parasites by the cell membrane and leads to the formation of an intracytoplasmic vesicle, the phagosome. Cell types that are capable of phagocytosis are called phagocytes and include monocytes, macrophages, dendritic cells and eosinophils. All these cells express Major Histocompatibility Complex class II molecules, although at different levels. These molecules allow the presentation of pathogen-derived peptides to CD4+ T lymphocytes, a mechanism that alerts the immune system of the occurrence of an infectious danger. In order to visualize the intracellular compartments in which complexes between pathogen-derived peptides and Major Histocompatibility Complex class II molecules are formed, we have generated a monoclonal antibody that reacts to a peptide derived from an immunodominant antigen of the intracellular parasite Leishmania major bound to a murine Major Histocompatibility Complex class II molecule. We have shown that these complexes are present on the phagosomes from various types of phagocytes but that only dendritic cells export these complexes to the plasma membrane, allowing the activation of pathogen-specific T cells.
PMCID: PMC2954901  PMID: 20976202
9.  Pre-mRNA Processing Is Partially Impaired in Satellite Cell Nuclei from Aged Muscles 
Satellite cells are responsible for the capacity of mature mammalian skeletal muscles to repair and maintain mass. During aging, skeletal muscle mass as well as the muscle strength and endurance progressively decrease, leading to a condition termed sarcopenia. The causes of sarcopenia are manifold and remain to be completely elucidated. One of them could be the remarkable decline in the efficiency of muscle regeneration; this has been associated with decreasing amounts of satellite cells, but also to alterations in their activation, proliferation, and/or differentiation. In this study, we investigated the satellite cell nuclei of biceps and quadriceps muscles from adult and old rats; morphometry and immunocytochemistry at light and electron microscopy have been combined to assess the organization of the nuclear RNP structural constituents involved in different steps of mRNA formation. We demonstrated that in satellite cells the RNA pathways undergo alterations during aging, possibly hampering their responsiveness to muscle damage.
PMCID: PMC2872765  PMID: 20490357
10.  Recognition of Human Proinsulin Leader Sequence by Class I–Restricted T-Cells in HLA-A*0201 Transgenic Mice and in Human Type 1 Diabetes 
Diabetes  2009;58(2):394-402.
OBJECTIVE— A restricted region of proinsulin located in the B chain and adjacent region of C-peptide has been shown to contain numerous candidate epitopes recognized by CD8+ T-cells. Our objective is to characterize HLA class I–restricted epitopes located within the preproinsulin leader sequence.
RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS— Seven 8- to 11-mer preproinsulin peptides carrying anchoring residues for HLA-A1, -A2, -A24, and -B8 were selected from databases. HLA-A2–restricted peptides were tested for immunogenicity in transgenic mice expressing a chimeric HLA-A*0201/β2-microglobulin molecule. The peptides were studied for binding to purified HLA class I molecules, selected for carrying COOH-terminal residues generated by proteasome digestion in vitro and tested for recognition by human lymphocytes using an ex vivo interferon-γ (IFN-γ) ELISpot assay.
RESULTS— Five HLA-A2–restricted peptides were immunogenic in transgenic mice. Murine T-cell clones specific for these peptides were cytotoxic against cells transfected with the preproinsulin gene. They were recognized by peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) from 17 of 21 HLA-A2 type 1 diabetic patients. PBMCs from 25 of 38 HLA-A1, -A2, -A24, or -B8 patients produced IFN-γ in response to six preproinsulin peptides covering residues 2–25 within the preproinsulin region. In most patients, the response was against several class I–restricted peptides. T-cells recognizing preproinsulin peptide were characterized as CD8+ T-cells by staining with peptide/HLA-A2 tetramers.
CONCLUSIONS— We defined class I–restricted epitopes located within the leader sequence of human preproinsulin through in vivo (transgenic mice) and ex vivo (diabetic patients) assays, illustrating the possible role of preproinsulin-specific CD8+ T-cells in human type 1 diabetes.
PMCID: PMC2628613  PMID: 19011169
11.  Molecular therapies for systemic lupus erythematosus: clinical trials and future prospects 
The prognosis of patients with systemic lupus erythematosus has greatly improved since treatment regimens combining corticosteroids and immunosuppressive medications have been widely adopted in therapeutic strategies given to these patients. Immune suppression is evidently efficient but also leads to higher susceptibility to infectious and malignant diseases. Toxic effects and sometimes unexpectedly dramatic complications of current therapies have been progressively reported. Identifying novel molecular targets therefore remains an important issue in the treatment of lupus. The aim of this review article is to highlight emerging pharmacological options and new therapeutic avenues for lupus with a particular focus on non-antibody molecular strategies.
PMCID: PMC2714128  PMID: 19591653
12.  The Spliceosomal Phosphopeptide P140 Controls the Lupus Disease by Interacting with the HSC70 Protein and via a Mechanism Mediated by γδ T Cells 
PLoS ONE  2009;4(4):e5273.
The phosphopeptide P140 issued from the spliceosomal U1-70K snRNP protein is recognized by lupus CD4+ T cells, transiently abolishes T cell reactivity to other spliceosomal peptides in P140-treated MRL/lpr mice, and ameliorates their clinical features. P140 modulates lupus patients' T cell response ex vivo and is currently included in phase IIb clinical trials. Its underlying mechanism of action remains elusive. Here we show that P140 peptide binds a unique cell-surface receptor, the constitutively-expressed chaperone HSC70 protein, known as a presenting-protein. P140 induces apoptosis of activated MRL/lpr CD4+ T cells. In P140-treated mice, it increases peripheral blood lymphocyte apoptosis and decreases B cell, activated T cell, and CD4−CD8−B220+ T cell counts via a specific mechanism strictly depending on γδ T cells. Expression of inflammation-linked genes is rapidly regulated in CD4+ T cells. This work led us to identify a powerful pathway taken by a newly-designed therapeutic peptide to immunomodulate lupus autoimmunity.
PMCID: PMC2669294  PMID: 19390596
13.  The cell nuclei of skeletal muscle cells are transcriptionally active in hibernating edible dormice 
BMC Cell Biology  2009;10:19.
Skeletal muscle is able to react in a rapid, dynamic way to metabolic and mechanical stimuli. In particular, exposure to either prolonged starvation or disuse results in muscle atrophy. At variance, in hibernating animals muscle atrophy may be scarce or absent after bouts of hibernation i.e., periods of prolonged (months) inactivity and food deprivation, and muscle function is fully preserved at arousal. In this study, myocytes from the quadriceps muscle of euthermic and hibernating edible dormice were investigated by a combination of morphological, morphometrical and immunocytochemical analyses at the light and electron microscopy level. The focus was on cell nuclei and mitochondria, which are highly sensitive markers of changing metabolic rate.
Findings presented herein demonstrate that: 1) the general histology of the muscle, inclusive of muscle fibre shape and size, and the ratio of fast and slow fibre types are not affected by hibernation; 2) the fine structure of cytoplasmic and nuclear constituents is similar in euthermia and hibernation but for lipid droplets, which accumulate during lethargy; 3) during hibernation, mitochondria are larger in size with longer cristae, and 4) myonuclei maintain the same amount and distribution of transcripts and transcription factors as in euthermia.
In this study we demonstrate that skeletal muscle cells of the hibernating edible dormouse maintain their structural and functional integrity in full, even after months in the nest. A twofold explanation for that is envisaged: 1) the maintenance, during hibernation, of low-rate nuclear and mitochondrial activity counterbalancing myofibre wasting, 2) the intensive muscle stimulation (shivering) during periodic arousals in the nest, which would mimic physical exercise. These two factors would prevent muscle atrophy usually occurring in mammals after prolonged starvation and/or inactivity as a consequence of prevailing catabolism. Understanding the mechanisms responsible for skeletal muscle preservation in hibernators could pave the way to prevention and treatment of muscle wasting associated with pathological conditions or ageing as well as life in extreme environments, such as ocean deeps or spaceflights.
PMCID: PMC2663540  PMID: 19284674
14.  Transcutaneous Immunization with Cross-Reacting Material CRM197 of Diphtheria Toxin Boosts Functional Antibody Levels in Mice Primed Parenterally with Adsorbed Diphtheria Toxoid Vaccine▿  
Infection and Immunity  2008;76(4):1766-1773.
Transcutaneous immunization (TCI) capitalizes on the accessibility and immunocompetence of the skin, elicits protective immunity, simplifies vaccine delivery, and may be particularly advantageous when frequent boosting is required. In this study we examined the potential of TCI to boost preexisting immune responses to diphtheria in mice. The cross-reacting material (CRM197) of diphtheria toxin was used as the boosting antigen and was administered alone or together with either one of two commonly used mucosal adjuvants, cholera toxin (CT) and a partially detoxified mutant of heat-labile enterotoxin of Escherichia coli (LTR72). We report that TCI with CRM197 significantly boosted preexisting immune responses elicited after parenteral priming with aluminum hydroxide-adsorbed diphtheria toxoid (DTxd) vaccine. In the presence of LTR72 as an adjuvant, toxin-neutralizing antibody titers were significantly higher than those elicited by CRM197 alone and were comparable to the functional antibody levels induced after parenteral booster immunization with the adsorbed DTxd vaccine. Time course study showed that high levels of toxin-neutralizing antibodies persisted for at least 14 weeks after the transcutaneous boost. In addition, TCI resulted in a vigorous antigen-specific proliferative response in all groups of mice boosted with the CRM197 protein. These findings highlight the promising prospect of using booster administrations of CRM197 via the transcutaneous route to establish good herd immunity against diphtheria.
PMCID: PMC2292886  PMID: 18227167
15.  Modulation of microtubule assembly by the HIV-1 Tat protein is strongly dependent on zinc binding to Tat 
Retrovirology  2008;5:62.
During HIV-1 infection, the Tat protein plays a key role by transactivating the transcription of the HIV-1 proviral DNA. In addition, Tat induces apoptosis of non-infected T lymphocytes, leading to a massive loss of immune competence. This apoptosis is notably mediated by the interaction of Tat with microtubules, which are dynamic components essential for cell structure and division. Tat binds two Zn2+ ions through its conserved cysteine-rich region in vitro, but the role of zinc in the structure and properties of Tat is still controversial.
To investigate the role of zinc, we first characterized Tat apo- and holo-forms by fluorescence correlation spectroscopy and time-resolved fluorescence spectroscopy. Both of the Tat forms are monomeric and poorly folded but differ by local conformational changes in the vicinity of the cysteine-rich region. The interaction of the two Tat forms with tubulin dimers and microtubules was monitored by analytical ultracentrifugation, turbidity measurements and electron microscopy. At 20°C, both of the Tat forms bind tubulin dimers, but only the holo-Tat was found to form discrete complexes. At 37°C, both forms promoted the nucleation and increased the elongation rates of tubulin assembly. However, only the holo-Tat increased the amount of microtubules, decreased the tubulin critical concentration, and stabilized the microtubules. In contrast, apo-Tat induced a large amount of tubulin aggregates.
Our data suggest that holo-Tat corresponds to the active form, responsible for the Tat-mediated apoptosis.
PMCID: PMC2483996  PMID: 18613978
16.  The HIV-1 transcriptional activator Tat has potent nucleic acid chaperoning activities in vitro 
Nucleic Acids Research  2008;36(10):3389-3400.
The human immunodeficiency virus type 1 (HIV-1) is a primate lentivirus that causes the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). In addition to the virion structural proteins and enzyme precursors, that are Gag, Env and Pol, HIV-1 encodes several regulatory proteins, notably a small nuclear transcriptional activator named Tat. The Tat protein is absolutely required for virus replication since it controls proviral DNA transcription to generate the full-length viral mRNA. Tat can also regulate mRNA capping and splicing and was recently found to interfere with the cellular mi- and siRNA machinery. Because of its extensive interplay with nucleic acids, and its basic and disordered nature we speculated that Tat had nucleic acid-chaperoning properties. This prompted us to examine in vitro the nucleic acid-chaperoning activities of Tat and Tat peptides made by chemical synthesis. Here we report that Tat has potent nucleic acid-chaperoning activities according to the standard DNA annealing, DNA and RNA strand exchange, RNA ribozyme cleavage and trans-splicing assays. The active Tat(44–61) peptide identified here corresponds to the smallest known sequence with DNA/RNA chaperoning properties.
PMCID: PMC2425468  PMID: 18442994
17.  Influenza Virus-Induced Type I Interferon Leads to Polyclonal B-Cell Activation but Does Not Break Down B-Cell Tolerance▿  
Journal of Virology  2007;81(22):12525-12534.
The link between infection and autoimmunity is not yet well understood. This study was designed to evaluate if an acute viral infection known to induce type I interferon production, like influenza, can by itself be responsible for the breakdown of immune tolerance and for autoimmunity. We first tested the effects of influenza virus on B cells in vitro. We then infected different transgenic mice expressing human rheumatoid factors (RF) in the absence or in the constitutive presence of the autoantigen (human immunoglobulin G [IgG]) and young lupus-prone mice [(NZB × NZW)F1] with influenza virus and looked for B-cell activation. In vitro, the virus induces B-cell activation through type I interferon production by non-B cells but does not directly stimulate purified B cells. In vivo, both RF and non-RF B cells were activated in an autoantigen-independent manner. This activation was abortive since IgM and IgM-RF production levels were not increased in infected mice compared to uninfected controls, whether or not anti-influenza virus human IgG was detected and even after viral rechallenge. As in RF transgenic mice, acute viral infection of (NZB × NZW)F1 mice induced only an abortive activation of B cells and no increase in autoantibody production compared to uninfected animals. Taken together, these experiments show that virus-induced acute type I interferon production is not able by itself to break down B-cell tolerance in both normal and autoimmune genetic backgrounds.
PMCID: PMC2168975  PMID: 17855528
18.  Importance of spliceosomal RNP1 motif for intermolecular T-B cell spreading and tolerance restoration in lupus 
We previously demonstrated the importance of the RNP1 motif-bearing region 131–151 of the U1-70K spliceosomal protein in the intramolecular T-B spreading that occurs in MRL/lpr lupus mice. Here, we analyze the involvement of RNP1 motif in the development and prevention of naturally-occurring intermolecular T-B cell diversification. We found that MRL/lpr peripheral blood lymphocytes proliferated in response to peptides containing or corresponding exactly to the RNP1 motif of spliceosomal U1-70K, U1-A and hnRNP-A2 proteins. We also demonstrated that rabbit antibodies to peptide 131–151 cross-reacted with U1-70K, U1-A and hnRNP-A2 RNP1-peptides. These antibodies recognized the U1-70K and U1-A proteins, and also U1-C and SmD1 proteins, which are devoid of RNP1 motif. Repeated administration of phosphorylated peptide P140 into MRL/lpr mice abolished T-cell response to several peptides from the U1-70K, U1-A and SmD1 proteins without affecting antibody and T-cell responses to foreign (viral) antigen in treated mice challenged with infectious virus. These results emphasized the importance of the dominant RNP1 region, which seems to be central in the activation cascade of B and T cells reacting with spliceosomal RNP1+ and RNP1- spliceosomal proteins. The tolerogenic peptide P140, which is recognized by lupus patients' CD4+ T cells and known to protect MRL/lpr mice, is able to thwart emergence of intermolecular T-cell spreading in treated animals.
PMCID: PMC2212579  PMID: 17963484
19.  Immunomodulation by maternal autoantibodies of the fetal serotoninergic 5-HT4 receptor and its consequences in early BALB/c mouse embryonic development 
The presence of functional 5-HT4 receptors in human and its involvement in neonatal lupus erythematosus (NLE) have prompted us to study the receptor expression and role during embryogenesis. Earlier we managed to demonstrate that female BALB/c mice immunized against the second extracellular loop (SEL) of the 5-HT4 receptor gave birth to pups with heart block. To explain this phenomenon we investigated the expression of 5-HT4 receptors during mouse embryogenesis. At the same time we looked whether the consequence of 5-HT4 receptor immunomodulation observed earlier is in relation to receptor expression.
We studied the expression of 5-HT4 receptor at the mRNA level and its two isoforms 5-HT4(a) and 5-HT4(d) at the protein level in embryos from BALB/c mice, at 8th, 12th, 18th gestation days (GD) and 1 day post natal (DPN). Simultaneously the receptor activity was inhibited by rising antibodies, in female mice against SEL of the receptor. The mice were mated and embryos were collected at 8th, 12th, 18th GD and 1 DPN.
5-HT4 receptor mRNA increased in brain from 12th GD to 1 DPN. Its expression gradually decreased in heart and disappeared at birth. This was consistent with expression of the receptor isoforms 5-HT4(a) and (d). Abnormalities like decreased number of embryos, growth delay, spina bifida and sinus arrhythmia from 12th GD were documented in pups of mice showing anti-5-HT4 receptor antibodies.
serotoninergic 5-HT4 receptor plays an important role in mouse foetal development. In BALB/c mice there is a direct relation between the expression of receptor and the deleterious effect of maternal anti-5-HT4 receptor autoantibodies in early embryogenesis.
PMCID: PMC1891104  PMID: 17445258
20.  52-kDa Ro/SSA epitopes preferentially recognized by antibodies from mothers of children with neonatal lupus and congenital heart block 
Neonatal lupus erythematosus is a rare disorder caused by the transplacental passage of maternal autoantibodies. The 52-kDa Ro/SSA antigen (Ro52) ribonucleoprotein represents an antigenic target strongly associated with the autoimmune response in mothers whose children have neonatal lupus and cardiac conduction disturbances, mainly congenital heart block. The objective of this study was to identify putative Ro52/60-kDa Ro/SSA antigen (Ro60) epitopes associated with neonatal lupus and congenital heart block. The reactivity of IgG antibodies present in the sera from mothers with systemic lupus erythematosus and Sjögren's syndrome and in the sera from asymptomatic mothers (a longitudinal study of 192 samples from 66 subjects) was investigated by ELISA using Ro52, Ro60 and 48-kDa La/SSB antigen proteins, as well as 45 synthetic peptides, 13–24 residues long, of Ro52/Ro60 proteins. One to 19 samples collected before, during and after pregnancy were available for each mother. Forty-three disease controls selected randomly and normal sera were tested in parallel. Although no differences were found between Sjögren's syndrome and asymptomatic mothers of group I, who had at least one infant with neonatal lupus, and of group II, who had healthy babies only, significant differences were observed between lupus mothers from both groups. In the former group of lupus mothers, a significantly higher frequency of antibodies to Ro52 peptides 107–122 and 277–292 was observed. Between 18 and 30 weeks of gestation, the period of risk, there was clearly an elevated level of antibodies reacting with Ro52 peptides 1–13, 277–292 and 365–382. Antibodies to Ro52 peptide 365–382 have been shown previously to cross-react with residues 165–185 of the heart 5-HT4 serotoninergic receptor, and might be pathologically important. The level of these Ro52 antibody subsets decreased at the end of pregnancy and after delivery. IgG antibodies to Ro52 peptides 1–13, 107–122, 277–292 and 365–382 may therefore represent important biomarkers to predict a complication in pregnant lupus women with Ro52 antibodies.
PMCID: PMC1526571  PMID: 16356190
21.  Generation and Characterization of Neutralizing Human Monoclonal Antibodies against Human Immunodeficiency Virus Type 1 Tat Antigen 
Journal of Virology  2004;78(7):3792-3796.
The human immunodeficiency virus Tat regulatory protein is essential for virus replication and pathogenesis. From human peripheral blood mononuclear cells of three Tat toxoid-immunized volunteers, we isolated five Tat-specific human monoclonal antibodies (HMAbs): two full-length immunoglobulin G (IgG) antibodies and three single-chain fragment-variable (scFv) antibodies. The two IgGs were mapped to distinct epitopes within the basic region of Tat, and the three scFvs were mapped to the N-terminal domain of Tat. The three scFvs were highly reactive with recombinant Tat in Western blotting or immunoprecipitation, but results were in contrast to those for the two IgGs, which are sensitive to a particular folding of the protein. In transactivation assays, scFvs were able to inhibit both active recombinant Tat and native Tat secreted by a transfected CEM cell line while IgGs neutralized only native Tat. These HMAbs were able to reduce viral p24 production in human immunodeficiency virus type 1 strain IIIB chronically infected cell lines in a dose-dependent manner.
PMCID: PMC371091  PMID: 15016898
22.  Acceleration of type 1 diabetes mellitus in proinsulin 2–deficient NOD mice 
Journal of Clinical Investigation  2003;111(6):851-857.
Accumulating evidence favors a role for proinsulin as a key autoantigen in diabetes. In the mouse, two proinsulin isoforms coexist. Most studies point to proinsulin 2 as the major isoform recognized by T cells in the NOD mouse. We studied mice in which a null proinsulin 2 mutation was transferred from proinsulin 2–deficient 129 mice onto the NOD background along with 16 genetic markers (including I-Ag7 MHC molecule) associated with diabetes. Intercross mice from the fourth backcross generation showed that proinsulin 2–/– mice develop accelerated insulitis and diabetes. The high prevalence of anti-insulin autoantibodies in proinsulin 2–/– mice indicates that diabetes acceleration relates to altered recognition of proinsulin. The prevalence of anti–glutamic acid decarboxylase autoantibodies and of sialitis is not increased in proinsulin 2–/– mice. We give evidence that proinsulin 2 expression leads to silencing of T cells specific for an epitope shared by proinsulin 1 and proinsulin 2. In the human, alleles located in the VNTR region flanking the insulin gene control β cell response to glucose and proinsulin expression in the thymus and are key determinants of diabetes susceptibility. Proinsulin 2–/– NOD mice provide a model to study the role of thymic expression of insulin in susceptibility to diabetes.
PMCID: PMC153768  PMID: 12639991
23.  XRCC1 Is Specifically Associated with Poly(ADP-Ribose) Polymerase and Negatively Regulates Its Activity following DNA Damage 
Molecular and Cellular Biology  1998;18(6):3563-3571.
Poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase (PARP; EC is a zinc-finger DNA-binding protein that detects and signals DNA strand breaks generated directly or indirectly by genotoxic agents. In response to these breaks, the immediate poly(ADP-ribosyl)ation of nuclear proteins involved in chromatin architecture and DNA metabolism converts DNA damage into intracellular signals that can activate DNA repair programs or cell death options. To have greater insight into the physiological function of this enzyme, we have used the two-hybrid system to find genes encoding proteins putatively interacting with PARP. We have identified a physical association between PARP and the base excision repair (BER) protein XRCC1 (X-ray repair cross-complementing 1) in the Saccharomyces cerevisiae system, which was further confirmed to exist in mammalian cells. XRCC1 interacts with PARP by its central region (amino acids 301 to 402), which contains a BRCT (BRCA1 C terminus) module, a widespread motif in DNA repair and DNA damage-responsive cell cycle checkpoint proteins. Overexpression of XRCC1 in Cos-7 or HeLa cells dramatically decreases PARP activity in vivo, reinforcing the potential protective function of PARP at DNA breaks. Given that XRCC1 is also associated with DNA ligase III via a second BRCT module and with DNA polymerase β, our results provide strong evidence that PARP is a member of a BER multiprotein complex involved in the detection of DNA interruptions and possibly in the recruitment of XRCC1 and its partners for efficient processing of these breaks in a coordinated manner. The modular organizations of these interactors, associated with small conserved domains, may contribute to increasing the efficiency of the overall pathway.
PMCID: PMC108937  PMID: 9584196
24.  Lupuzor/P140 peptide in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled phase IIb clinical trial 
Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases  2012;72(11):1830-1835.
To evaluate treatment with the peptide-based agent, Lupuzor, in a double-blind, randomised, placebo-controlled study of patients with systemic lupus erythematosus.
Patients who met ≥4 of the American College of Rheumatology criteria, had a score of ≥6 on the Systemic Lupus Erythematosus Disease Activity Index 2000 (SLEDAI-2K) and did not have an A score on the British Isles Lupus Assessment Group (BILAG)-2004 scale were eligible. 149 intention-to-treat (ITT) patients were randomly assigned to receive Lupuzor (200 μg) subcutaneously every 4 weeks (n=49; group 1) or every 2 weeks (n=51; group 2) or placebo (n=49; group 3) in addition to standard of care (SOC). A target population (136 ITT patients) consisting of patients having a clinical SLEDAI score ≥6 at week 0 was considered. The clinical SLEDAI score is the SLEDAI-2K score obtained by omitting low complement and increased DNA binding components.
In the ITT overall population, 53.1% in group 1 (p=0.048), 45.1% in group 2 (p=0.18) and 36.2% in the placebo group achieved an SLE Responder Index (SRI) response at week 12. In the target population, the results were more impressive: 61.9% in group 1 (p=0.016), 48.0% in group 2 (p=0.18) and 38.6% in the placebo group achieved an SRI response at week 12. An interim analysis including 114 patients from the target population demonstrated an even better efficacy (according to SLEDAI score) in group 1 compared with placebo (67.6% vs 41.5% (p<0.025) at week 12 and 84.2% vs 45.8% (p<0.025) at week 24). The most common adverse event was a mild injection-site erythema.
Lupuzor/200 µg given three times at 4-week intervals during 12 weeks in addition to SOC is efficacious and generally well tolerated.
PMCID: PMC3812851  PMID: 23172751
Systemic Lupus Erythematosus; Treatment; T Cells

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