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1.  Engineered Tregulatory cells co-expressing MHC class II:peptide complexes are efficient inhibitors of autoimmune T cell function and prevent the development of autoimmune arthritis 
Treg cells are critical homeostatic components in preventing the development of autoimmunity, and are a major focus for their therapeutic potential for autoimmune diseases. In order to enhance the efficacy of Treg cells in adoptive therapy, we developed a strategy for generating engineered Tregs that have the capacity to target autoimmune T cells in an antigen specific manner. Using a retroviral expression system encoding Foxp3 and HLA-DR1 covalently linked to the immunodominant peptide of the autoantigen type II collagen (DR1-CII), naïve T cells were engineered to become Treg cells that express DR1-CII complexes on their surface. When these cells were tested for their ability to prevent the development of collagen induced arthritis, both the engineered DR1-CII-Foxp3 and Foxp3 only Treg cells significantly reduced the severity and incidence of disease. However, the mechanism buy which these two populations of Treg cells inhibited disease differed significantly. Disease inhibition by the DR1-CII-Foxp3 Treg cells was accompanied by significantly lower numbers of autoimmune CII-specific T cells in vivo and lower levels of autoantibodies in comparison to engineered Tregs expressing Foxp3 alone. Additionally, the numbers of IFN-γ and IL-17 expressing T cells in mice treated with DR1-CII-Foxp3 Tregs were also significantly reduced in comparison to mice treated with Foxp3 engineered Treg cells or vector control cells. These data indicate that the co-expression of class II autoantigen-peptide complexes on Treg cells provides these cells with a distinct capacity to regulate autoimmune T cell responses that differs from that used by conventional Treg cells.
PMCID: PMC3673549  PMID: 23630354
2.  Characterization of T cell phenotype and function in a double transgenic (collagen-specific TCR/HLA-DR1) humanized model of arthritis 
T cells orchestrate joint inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis (RA), yet they are difficult to study due to the small numbers of antigen-specific cells. The goal of this study was to characterize a new humanized model of autoimmune arthritis and to describe the phenotypic and functional changes that occur in autoimmune T cells following the induction of pathological events.
We developed a double transgenic mouse containing both the HLA-DR1 transgene and an HLA-DR1-restricted collagen-specific TCR in order to obtain large numbers of antigen-specific T cells that can be used for immunologic studies.
In vitro, CII-specific T cells from this mouse proliferated vigorously in response to the CII immunodominant peptide A2 and the cells altered their phenotype to become predominately CD62Llow and CD44high “activated” T cells. The response was accompanied by the production of Th1, Th2, and Th17-type cytokines. Following immunization with bovine CII/CFA, these mice develop an accelerated arthritis compared to single transgenic HLA-DR1 mice. On the other hand, when the mice were treated orally with the analog peptide A12, (a suppressive analog of collagen we have previously described), arthritis was significantly suppressed, despite the fact that >90% of the CD4+ T cells express the TCR Tg. In GALT tissues taken from the A12-treated mice, IL-2, IFN-γ, and IL-17 production to the autoimmune collagen determinant dropped while high levels of IL-10 and IL-4 were produced.
We have developed a humanized model of autoimmune arthritis that will be useful for the study of T cell directed therapies as well as T cell mediated mechanisms of autoimmune diseases.
PMCID: PMC3978884  PMID: 24405551
3.  MHC Class II Derived Recombinant T Cell Receptor Ligands Protect DBA/1LacJ Mice from Collagen-Induced Arthritis1 
We previously demonstrated the therapeutic effects of MHC class II derived recombinant T cell receptor ligands (RTL), single-chain two domain complexes of the α1 and β1 domains of MHC class II molecules genetically linked with an immunodominant peptide, in experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis. In the current study, we produced a monomeric murine I-Aq-derived RTL construct covalently linked with bovine collagen type II peptide (bCII257–270) suitable for use in DBA/1LacJ mice that develop collagen-induced arthritis (CIA), an animal model of human rheumatoid arthritis, after immunization with bCII protein in CFA. In this study, we demonstrate that the I-Aq-derived RTLs reduced the incidence of the disease, suppressed the clinical and histological signs of CIA and induced long-term modulation of T cells specific for arthritogenic Ags. Our results showed that the I-Aq/bCII257–270 molecule could systemically reduce proinflammatory IL-17 and IFN-γ production and significantly increase anti-inflammatory IL-10, IL-13, and FoxP3 gene expression in splenocytes. Moreover, I-Aq/bCII257–270 molecule could also selectively inhibit IL-1β, IL-6, and IL-23 expression in local joint tissue. This is the first report demonstrating effective prevention of joint inflammation and clinical signs of CIA with an I-Aq-derived RTL, thus supporting the possible clinical use of this approach for treating rheumatoid arthritis in humans.
PMCID: PMC3457790  PMID: 18178865
4.  Characterization of inhibitory T cells induced by an analog of type II collagen in an HLA-DR1 humanized mouse model of autoimmune arthritis 
Arthritis Research & Therapy  2012;14(3):R107.
We used DR1 transgenic mice and covalently linked DR1 multimers to characterize analog-specific inhibitory T cells in collagen-induced arthritis (CIA). Because of the low numbers of antigen-specific T cells in wild-type mice, functional T-cell studies in autoimmune arthritis have been challenging. The use of T-cell receptor (TCR) transgenic mice has provided useful information, but such T cells may not represent the heterogeneous T-cell response that occurs in natural settings. Our focus was to develop tools to identify and characterize the population of immunoregulatory T cells induced in wild-type mice by an analog peptide of CII259-273, which contains amino acid substitutions at positions 263 (N) and 266 (D) (analog peptide A12).
DR1 multimers, developed by loading empty class II molecules with exogenous peptide, provide a method for visualizing antigen-specific T cells with flow cytometry. However, the low binding avidity of A12 for the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) made this strategy untenable. To overcome this problem, we generated DR1 multimers in which the analog peptide A12 was covalently linked, hoping that the low-avidity analog would occupy enough binding clefts to allow detection of the responsive T cells.
Staining with the tetramer revealed that A12-specific T cells were readily detectable at 10 days after immunization. These CD4(+) T cells are a highly selective subset of the TCR repertoire and have a limited clonality. Analysis of cytokine expression showed that cells detected by tetramer (A12) expressed primarily suppressive cytokines (interleukin-4 (IL-4) and IL-10) in response to collagen, compared with control cells. Although they did not express Fox-p3, they were extremely effective in preventing and suppressing inflammatory arthritis.
In summary, our studies showed that the use of covalently linked multimers allows characterization of analog-specific T cells that are otherwise difficult to detect. The suppressive character of the analog-specific T-cell response suggests that these cells attenuate autoimmunity and differ significantly in phenotype from the inflammatory T cells predominantly found in arthritic joints. Such reagents will become powerful tools to study T-cell responses in RA patients in upcoming clinical trials.
PMCID: PMC3446484  PMID: 22569209
5.  An HLA-DR1 Transgene Confers Susceptibility to Collagen-induced Arthritis Elicited with Human Type II Collagen 
The Journal of Experimental Medicine  1997;185(6):1113-1122.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that is strongly associated with the expression of several HLA-DR haplotypes, including DR1 (DRB1*0101). Although the antigen that initiates RA remains elusive, it has been shown that many patients have autoimmunity directed to type II collagen (CII). To test the hypothesis that HLA-DR1 is capable of mediating an immune response to CII, we have generated transgenic mice expressing chimeric (human/ mouse) HLA-DR1. When the DR1 transgenic mice were immunized with human CII (hCII), they developed a severe autoimmune arthritis, evidenced by severe swelling and erythema of the limbs and marked inflammation and erosion of articular joints. The development of the autoimmune arthritis was accompanied by strong DR1-restricted T and B cell responses to hCII. The T cell response was focused on a dominant determinant contained within CII(259–273) from which an eight amino acid core was defined. The B cell response was characterized by high titers of antibody specific for hCII, and a high degree of cross-reactivity with murine type II collagen. These data demonstrate that HLA-DR1 is capable of presenting peptides derived from hCII, and suggest that this DR1 transgenic model will be useful in the development of DR1-specific therapies for RA.
PMCID: PMC2196244  PMID: 9091584
6.  Analog peptides of type II collagen can suppress arthritis in HLA-DR4 (DRB1*0401) transgenic mice 
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease associated with the recognition of self proteins secluded in diarthrodial joints. We have previously established that mice transgenic for the human DR genes associated with RA are susceptible to collagen-induced arthritis (CIA) and we have identified a determinant of type II collagen (CII263–270) that triggers T-cell immune responses in these mice. We have also determined that an analog of CII263–270 would suppress disease in DR1 transgenic mice. Because the immunodominant determinant is the same for both DR1 transgenic and DR4 transgenic mice, we attempted to determine whether the analog peptide that was suppressive in DR1 transgenic mice would also be effective in suppressing CIA in DR4 transgenic mice. We treated DR4 transgenic mice with two analog peptides of CII that contained substitutions in the core of the immunodominant determinant: CII256–276 (F263N, E266D) and CII256–270 (F263N, E266A). Mice were observed for CIA, and T-cell proliferative responses were determined. Either peptide administered at the time of immunization with CII significantly downregulated arthritis. Binding studies demonstrated that replacement of the phenylalanine residue in position 263 of the CII peptide with asparagine significantly decreased the affinity of the peptide for the DR4 molecule. In contrast, replacement of the glutamic acid residue in position 266 with aspartic acid or with alanine had differing results. Aspartic acid reduced the affinity (35-fold) whereas alanine did not. Both peptides were capable of suppressing CIA. With the use of either peptide, CII256–276 (F263N, E266D) or CII256–270 (F263N, E266A), the modulation of CIA was associated with an increase in T-cell secretion of IL-4 together with a decrease in IFN-γ. We have identified two analog peptides that are potent suppressors of CIA in DR4 transgenic mice. These experiments represent the first description of an analog peptide of CII recognized by T cells in the context of HLA-DR4 that can suppress autoimmune arthritis.
PMCID: PMC1779432  PMID: 16982003
7.  Paradoxical roles of IFN-γ in models of Th1-mediated autoimmunity 
Arthritis Research  2002;4(6):333-336.
T-cell responses to antigens are classified on the basis of the cytokines they produce as either Th1 (IFN-γ, IL-2) or Th2 (IL-4, IL-10), with these Th types being indicative of either cell-mediated or antibody-mediated responses, respectively. Using this classification, T-cell responses in MHC-class-II-restricted autoimmune diseases appear to be predominantly of the Th1 type, based on the presence of high levels of IFN-γ. This simplistic classification has recently been challenged, however, as disease incidence and severity are frequently elevated in animals that have a deficient IFN-γ response. The recent data discussed here indicate that the cytokine circuits involved in the regulation of cell-mediated and humoral immune responses during the development of autoimmune arthritis are more complex than originally proposed; perhaps our characterization of autoimmune responses as strictly Th1 or Th2 is overly simplistic, especially as it pertains to the role of IFN-γ.
PMCID: PMC153838  PMID: 12453308
arthritis; autoimmunity; cytokines; IFN-γ

Results 1-7 (7)