Intramolecular mimicry: Identification and analysis of two cross-reactive T cell epitopes within a single protein

D. T. Agerty, P. M. Allen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

55 Scopus citations


The recognition of peptide Ags by T cells through the TCR has exquisite specificity. Cross-reactive T cell responses have been described; however, the structural basis for these responses is not known. We show that two peptides derived from the same protein can exhibit sufficient structural homology, despite minimal structural identity, to elicit cross-reactive T cell responses. In addition, we explore the structural basis for cross- reactivity. T cell hybridomas recognizing PiM and PiZ allelic forms of human α1-antitrypsin (hAAT) each recognized both PiM 205-220 and PiM 335-350. These two peptides possessed primary sequence identity at only two of 16 amino acid residues. Cross-reactive peptides also exhibited homology at the bulk T cell level because lymph node T cells primed with one peptide proliferated to the other peptide in vitro. Critical amino acids for the responding T cells were determined, and the core was transferred into the less reactive peptide in an attempt to increase homology by increasing sequence identity. Interestingly, as identity increased, homology decreased: peptides with the least primary sequence identity appeared most homologous to the T cells. These results have important implications for understanding the development of autoimmune diseases, and imply that minimal obvious primary sequence identity may be sufficient to initiate cross-reactive T cell responses. The ability of structurally dissimilar peptides to mimic each other when bound to a class II MHC molecule may also be important to the understanding of T development and autoimmunity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2993-3001
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Immunology
Issue number6
StatePublished - 1995


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