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1.  Bone loss and aggravated autoimmune arthritis in HLA-DRβ1-bearing humanized mice following oral challenge with Porphyromonas gingivalis 
The linkage between periodontal disease and rheumatoid arthritis is well established. Commonalities among the two are that both are chronic inflammatory diseases characterized by bone loss, an association with the shared epitope susceptibility allele, and anti-citrullinated protein antibodies.
To explore immune mechanisms that may connect the two seemingly disparate disorders, we measured host immune responses including T-cell phenotype and anti-citrullinated protein antibody production in human leukocyte antigen (HLA)-DR1 humanized C57BL/6 mice following exposure to the Gram-negative anaerobic periodontal disease pathogen Porphyromonas gingivalis. We measured autoimmune arthritis disease expression in mice exposed to P. gingivalis, and also in arthritis-resistant mice by flow cytometry and multiplex cytokine-linked and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays. We also measured femoral bone density by microcomputed tomography and systemic cytokine production.
Exposure of the gingiva of DR1 mice to P. gingivalis results in a transient increase in the percentage of Th17 cells, both in peripheral blood and cervical lymph nodes, a burst of systemic cytokine activity, a loss in femoral bone density, and the generation of anti-citrullinated protein antibodies. Importantly, these antibodies are not produced in response to P. gingivalis treatment of wild-type C57BL/6 mice, and P. gingivalis exposure triggered expression of arthritis in arthritis-resistant mice.
Exposure of gingival tissues to P. gingivalis has systemic effects that can result in disease pathology in tissues that are spatially removed from the initial site of infection, providing evidence for systemic effects of this periodontal pathogen. The elicitation of anti-citrullinated protein antibodies in an HLA-DR1-restricted fashion by mice exposed to P. gingivalis provides support for the role of the shared epitope in both periodontal disease and rheumatoid arthritis. The ability of P. gingivalis to induce disease expression in arthritis-resistant mice provides support for the idea that periodontal infection may be able to trigger autoimmunity if other disease-eliciting factors are already present.
PMCID: PMC5081677  PMID: 27784339
Periodontal disease; Rheumatoid arthritis; Porphyromonas gingivalis; Animal model
2.  The CII-specific autoimmune T-cell response develops in the presence of FTY720 but is regulated by enhanced Treg cells that inhibit the development of autoimmune arthritis 
Fingolimod (FTY720) is an immunomodulating drug that inhibits sphingosine-1-phosphate binding and blocks T-cell egress from lymph nodes. We analyzed the effect of FTY720 on the autoimmune T- and B-cell response in autoimmune arthritis and studied the mechanisms by which it alters the function of T cells.
Human leukocyte antigen (HLA)-DR1 humanized mice were immunized with type II collagen (CII) and treated with FTY720 three times per week for 3 weeks. Arthritis was evaluated and autoimmune T- and B-cell responses were measured using proliferation assays, enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays, HLA-DR tetramers, and flow cytometry. The functional capacity of regulatory T (Treg) cells from FTY720-treated mice was measured using an in vitro suppression assay, and the role of Treg cells in inhibiting arthritis in FTY720-treated mice was evaluated using mice treated with anti-CD25 to deplete Treg cells.
Treatment with FTY720 delayed the onset of arthritis and significantly reduced disease incidence. FTY720 did not prevent the generation of a CII-specific autoimmune T-cell response in vivo. However, as the treatment continued, these T cells became unresponsive to restimulation with antigen in vitro, and this anergic state was reversed by addition of interleukin 2. Measurements of CD4+CD25+Foxp3+ cells in the lymph nodes revealed that the ratio of Treg to helper T (Th) cells increased twofold in the FTY720-treated mice, and in vitro assays indicated that the regulatory function of these cells was enhanced. That FTY720 stimulation of Treg cells played a major role in arthritis inhibition was demonstrated by a loss of disease inhibition and restitution of the T-cell proliferative function after in vivo depletion of the Treg cells.
While FTY720 affects the recirculation of lymphocytes, its ability to inhibit the development of autoimmune arthritis involves several mechanisms, including the enhancement of Treg cell function by increasing the Treg/Th ratio and increased regulatory function on a per-cell basis. FTY720 did not inhibit the development of the autoimmune T-cell response, but disease inhibition appeared to be mediated by Treg cell–mediated suppression of the CII-specific T cells. These data suggest that specific targeting of Treg cells with FTY720 may be a novel therapy for autoimmunity.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s13075-015-0909-6) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4718028  PMID: 26757712
Autoimmunity; Arthritis; Treg; Therapy; FTY720; Fingolimod; Type II collagen
3.  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
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.  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

Results 1-5 (5)