To examine the role of protein catabolism in the formation of antigenic peptide fragments, human fibrinopeptide-immune guinea pig T cells were stimulated with the large native molecule, human fibrinogen. Two different systems were tested. In the first, we determined responses by human fibrinopeptide B (hFPB)-immune T cells, to which strain (St.) 2 guinea pigs are responders and St. 13 are nonresponders, and by human fibrinopeptide A (hFPA)-immune T cells to which St. 13 are responders and St. 2 are nonresponders. Of interest in this comparison is that both hFPA and hFPB are amino terminal peptides on the A and B chain of fibrinogen, respectively, and are readily cleaved by thrombin during fibrin formation and by other trypsin-like enzymes, leaving a carboxyl terminal Arg. Thus, if fibrinogen catabolism occurred, both antigenic peptides should be equally represented for availability in T cell responses. It was found that hFPB-immune St. 2 T cells responded to fibrinogen, but no response was observed with hPFA-immune St. 13 T cells cultured with fibrinogen. To rule out that there was a general catabolic defect in St. 13 antigen-presenting cells, fibrinogen was presented by (2 X 13)F1 macrophages to fibrinopeptide-immune parental T cells. Again it was found that F1 macrophages could present fibrinogen to hFPB-immune T cells but failed to present hFPA. In another comparison, responses with fibrinogen were also determined with des-ARg-hFPB, which lacks the carboxyl terminal Arg of hFPB, to which St. 13 are responders and St. 2 are nonresponders. The advantage of this comparison is that both antigenic determinants are contained within the same small peptide. St. 13 des-Arg-hFPB-immune T cells failed to respond in vitro by culture with human fibrinogen, suggesting that these antigenic determinants are not produced from larger peptides or proteins containing those determinants. To rule out the possibility that this was only an in vitro phenomenon, guinea pigs were immunized with the larger protein, the B chain of fibrinogen, and the immune T cells were examined for responses to fibrinopeptides derived from the B chain. Immune St. 2 T cells responded to hFPB but not to des-Arg-hFPB, whereas St. 13 T cells remained unresponsive with both peptides. These results indicate that proteolysis of larger proteins to form small antigenic peptides is not a random event and that not all potential antigenic determinants contained in a protein are produced during antigen processing.

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