Initiation and regulation of CNS autoimmunity
Our studies addressed the questions of how self-reactive T cells escape tolerance and what stimuli cause these T cells to initiate autoimmune responses. We employed experimental allergic encephalomyelitis (EAE) as an animal model of multiple sclerosis (MS). Endogenous expression of myelin basic protein (MBP) induces tolerance in T cells that recognize one region of MBP, whereas T cells specific for a different region escape tolerance. Triggers of disease induction were investigated in a T-cell receptor (TCR) transgenic model in which the majority of T cells recognize the MBP epitope that does not induce tolerance. EAE occurs spontaneously in this model and the incidence of disease depends on microbial exposure. EAE can also be actively induced by immunization with MBP peptide accompanied by injection of pertussis toxin as well as by administration of pertussis toxin alone. Immunization with MBP peptide without pertussis toxin, however, stimulates the transgenic T cells, but the activated T cells do not accumulate in the central nervous system (CNS) or induce EAE. Our studies suggest that initiation of autoimmune disease involves complex interactions between the neuroendocrine system as well as the innate and specific immune systems.
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